Updated 01/30/2013 10:26 AM
City council mulls over where to spend budget surplus
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Austin City Council held a special budget session Tuesday afternoon to discuss how to pay for several urgent initiatives.
Council is mulling over where to spend a $12.1 million budget surplus and an additional $2.2 million in sales tax. The extra $14 million only accounts for about two percent of the City of Austin's budget.
According to Austin Budget Officer Ed Van Eenoo, the city's seen 16 straight months of gains.
"The first two payments of the fiscal year, we are up 13.7 percent,” he said. “Those are real strong trends, real positive results, real positive testament to the strength of our local economy."
Still, the council has decided to figuratively split pennies and hope they keep coming.
"Council has made it clear that they want to remain very conservative on the projections of sales tax dollars because it is obviously a volatile source of revenue," Van Eenoo said.
Van Eenoo gave the city council an outline of priority expenses. Among the proposals is $10.8 million for affordable housing programs--an initiative voters rejected in November. Another priority expense is $400,000 each to cemetery maintenance and wildfire prevention.
An explosion of development in the city has caused a serious backlog in building permits. In turn, the most contentious bid for funds could be less than $200,000 for to the city's planning and development review department. Right now, building plans are backlogged months for for approval.
Donald Birkner with the city’s Planning and Development Review Department said many home remodel projects submitted in October are just now getting reviewed as February approaches.
"We lost 75 percent of my review staff this year,” he said. “We normally lose some, but this year we had an exceptional loss.”
At the same time, planners saw the biggest spike in applications in more than 20 years.
Another cost is the already-mounting bills for Austin's new 10-1 city council, up for election in 2014.
Planners suggested setting aside nearly a quarter-million dollars for advertising, consultants and hiring outside attorneys as single member districts are drawn.