Austin city officials sat down Wednesday to hash out the budget for the coming fiscal year.
The municipal courts are just a small part of Austin's budget, but it was the first department to face council's scrutiny. Their department wants to add two case managers, but has nine job openings—five of which have been open for more than six months.
"We couldn't understand, at least from our perspective, how we could have so many vacancies that have not been filled for many, many months, yet those same departments are asking for new employees,” Council Member Mike Martinez said.
Citywide, there are more than 900 (934) job openings right now. Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald says that's normal.
"We have over 12,000 employees. You are going to run a number of vacancies because of retirements, resignations, seasonal,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons why you are going to run vacancies."
The Austin Police Department will fill a couple hundred job openings soon with the latest cadet class, as will the Fire Department. Still, several council members asked department heads how important new hires are if they're able to function months at a time without staff.
The council's concern is similar to what it was during the recession in 2009, when city manager Marc Ott called for extra scrutiny when hiring new employees.
"My question is why aren't we doing that each and every year, all the time, every day as opposed to just when we face budget shortfalls," Martinez said.
But McDonald says this is not 2009.
"We were having that higher level of scrutiny. That had more to do with positions that we had intended to fill, but we wanted to hold those positions as long as possible to save every dollar we could," the deputy city manager said.
Council Member Martinez said he wants to make sure every tax dollar spent is absolutely needed, so Austinites don't have bear the burden.
Budget discussions continue Monday. The first public hearing is Aug. 22.