Garza Budget Priorities and thoughts

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Delia Garza
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Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2015 9:20 am

Garza Budget Priorities and thoughts

Post by Delia Garza » Fri Sep 09, 2016 8:52 pm

Before we begin our weekend trying to find ways to fund our priorities, I want to take a moment to share my thoughts.

Fundamentally, I believe we as a Council should do everything we can to keep our word. Several of the priorities in jeopardy now are projects that we promised to prioritize – in fact, we made promises that people in our community have acted in reliance on. We will do them and ourselves a disservice if we do not follow through on our promises.

1. It is very important to me that we keep our commitment to Emergency Medical Services to complete the implementation of their 42 hour work week. Our commitment to them was not frivolous or impulsive. EMS workers’ quality of life will be directly impacted by our success or failure to keep the promise we made.

2. I also feel it is important to fully fund the Healthy Food Retail Initiative (HS1.04b) at $400,000. Contrary to the impression that some people may have after our meetings this week, the program does not have extra unallocated funding from FY 16 (“allocated” is different from “spent”), so failing to fund the full amount in FY 17 would mean the City will be backsliding and abandoning commitments it has made to people and nonprofits in this community. It should be an embarrassment to our city that one in four families in this prosperous city is considered food insecure and this initiative is an attempt at addressing this long neglected issue.

3. We need to remember that the nonprofit social service agencies in Austin face many of the same cost drivers that the City does, and if we do not address those cost drivers, the volume of services they can provide will decrease. That is why this Council passed a resolution committing itself to giving a 3% annual increase to existing social service and workforce development contracts. According to a May 2 memo from the Finance Department, that means $800,000 for FY 17. Whatever else we do, we should not allow these services to become scarcer than they are now.

4. The money to increase APD’s forensic lab staffing ($1,400,000) should be reallocated from within APD’s existing budget. Rather than increasing their overall staffing, I believe it is more appropriate for APD to give forensic testing the priority it deserves from within its current resources.

5. I am very concerned about the consequences of arbitrarily curbing the money allocated to the Quality of Life Commissions’ recommendations. At this juncture, with the “block spending” approach for each Commission’s set of recommendations, it is completely unclear which projects will get funding or in what amount. I hope in future budget cycles, we coordinate the divvying of those funds into separate programs by directing our HHS and Economic Development staff (as appropriate) to assist the separate Commissions to prioritize their requests within the funds allocated and return those programs to Council for approval.

Finally, I need to reemphasize that a big reason we’re facing these hard questions around keeping our promises is because of this year’s 2% increase in the homestead exemption. The increase carved $3.8 million from this year’s City budget, without making a meaningful change to affordability – a mere $2 a month for the average homeowner. Meanwhile, residents’ mortgages and rents are both rising more quickly than the City’s property taxes, and we are depriving ourselves of the means to fix that. The homestead exemption does nothing for the half of Austin that rents and undermines the City’s ability to meet urgent city needs. I hope our council seriously considers this predicament in future budget cycles.

Sincerely,

Delia Garza
Mayor Pro Tem, District 2