The entire budget proposal amounts to $4.5 billion — vastly higher than both San Antonio and Dallas’ budgets, both of which are substantially more populated.
“[T]he good news is that, economically, Austin, Texas has come through the many challenges of the past year in as good or better shape than any big city in America,” City Manager Spencer Cronk said in unveiling the budget proposal.
Over $442 million is proposed to fund the Austin Police Department (APD) through the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Last year, after protests and riots that wrought open conflict between police and protesters mixed with agitators, the city council moved forward with a $150 million cut and redirection to the APD budget.
The current proposal is a $133 million increase from the amount allocated for the current fiscal year.
Over 30 percent of that total comes from placing back under the APD umbrella the forensic lab, professional standards oversight, and support services such as the 911 call center. The neighborhood-based policing category, encompassing officers on patrol, is $3 million lower than its budgeted amount two years ago. Fewer officers on patrol makes it more difficult to respond to 911 calls.
According to department numbers, the average response time has increased from 7 minutes and 31 seconds to 9 minutes since last summer.
Another factor of the spending level is an increased contribution to the police retirement fund and two new cadet classes.
Save Austin Now, the group behind the homeless camping ban reinstatement, criticized the proposed budget and claimed it is inadequate. APD is short 390 officers and bleeds 15 to 20 every month to attrition.
That group launched another petition effort in May to restore police department funding and mandate a minimum staffing level of 2.0 officers per 1,000 residents.
“The vacancy situation is at a crisis level. The attrition level that we have gets worse every day,” Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak said Monday. “Even the proposed budget is wholly inadequate for what we need to make our city safe today.”
Mackowiak pointed to the recently passed anti-police-defunding legislation from the 87th regular session as a reason the city is nominally “refunding” its police department.
The bill imposes financial penalties in the form of frozen property taxes and triggers automatic de-annexation referendums for cities judged to have defunded their police departments.
Cronk said in his statement, “[A]s Council knows, we face a significant new challenge in the upcoming fiscal year in the form of HB1900, a new state law that levies catastrophic fiscal penalties for municipalities that cut police funding year-over-year. I want to assure you that our FY22 budget proposal is fully compliant with the requirements of the new law.”
This year to date, there have been 45 homicides in Austin — on track to double last year’s total.
“We do not wholly have a police funding crisis, we have a police staffing crisis,” Mackowiak concluded.
The final budget will be adopted at a regular meeting on August 11 and council can make any changes it deems necessary.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.