Cronk delivered remarks on the budget to City Council members at an event held at Community First Village on July 9 and first laid out several priorities and areas of focus in an initial spending plan increased around 7% from last year's preliminary budget.
While one of the top pieces of last year's budget was the approximately $150 million cut from the Austin Police Department, partially accomplished through the removal of vacant positions and shifting of some non-police operations out of APD, this year's plan will provide for the reverse. Due to the passage of House Bill 1900 this spring, which heavily penalizes any cities that "defund" their police departments, previously decoupled offices in Cronk's plan, such as emergency communications and forensic sciences departments, were returned to APD "to fully comply with the state’s new budget requirements." Around $6.2 million in additional funding for APD's cadet academy would be included as well.
The city also highlighted efforts to transform public safety in Austin sparked by last year's police brutality protests, and the budget process will continue despite those funding shifts: Around $29 million will still be directed to "maintain and advance" progress on the city's Reimagining Public Safety initiative. That process has involved several operational changes for public safety at the city over the past year including budgeting shifts and community engagement aimed at ensuring Austin's policing system "reflects the community’s core values," the city said.
Cronk's outline also reserves tens of millions of dollars for the city's homeless programs, totaling $65.2 million in funding across more than a dozen city departments. That comes in addition to the more than $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds the city could allot to homeless services and housing initiatives as directed by City Council this spring.
One of Cronk's areas of focus outlined ahead of his budget presentation was "fostering a resilient city" with funding directed to infrastructure, climate responses and "chronic societal and institutional inequities," including homelessness and public safety. Also under Cronk's resiliency umbrella are items such as a five-year, $298.2 million spending plan for watershed protection efforts; a five-year, $348.6 million spending plan for water treatment and delivery improvements; $12.8 million for wildfire prevention; and several millions of dollars dedicated to food supply, displacement and equity efforts.
“The 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,” Cronk said in a statement prior to his presentation. “Our local economy is fundamentally strong and performed unexpectedly well during the COVID[-19] pandemic, with more positive impacts for our budget than we anticipated even a few months ago."
Other highlights shared by the city ahead of Cronk's presentation include $79 million in capital spending on affordable housing; more than $18 million dedicated to cultural programming, such as museum expansions, live music support and other "creative spaces" purchasing; and $152.3 million in planned spending on mobility projects.
The city's general fund budget could come with a 3.5% property tax revenue increase, which the city said would result in around an 0.85% increase in annual payments made by the average Austin property owner based on taxes and other rates and fees.
Following Cronk's July 9 delivery, council and community members will have several weeks to provide input on the shape and scope of the city's FY 2021-22 budget. City-led community meetings on the framework will be held July 22 and 29, and City Council will meet for its own work sessions July 27 and Aug. 3. A final budget is expected to be adopted by council Aug. 11.