Council members have appeared together at various events in recent months, and many also worked from their City Hall offices while public meetings remained virtual. The summer budget hearing will mark the first time the majority of the council gathers in their City Hall chamber with members of the public present since their meetings shifted online last spring.
Audience occupancy in the chamber will be limited to every other seat, city spokesperson Yasmeen Hassan said, as long as Austin Public Health's COVID-19 risk status for Austin and Travis County remains at Stage 2 as of next week. The region moved into Stage 2 mid-May, however, the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 hospitalizations—the key indicator for Austin-Travis County's risk thresholds—has in recent days tracked toward Stage 3 levels.
Hassan said additional precautions to potentially be in place at City Hall next week include a partitioned area for city staff and a restricted council dais. Masks will be recommended but not required at the meeting, and hand sanitizer will be available to visitors.
Council members had discussed several items related to their return to public meetings prior to their summer meetings break, including COVID-19 precautions and attendance preferences. While there was some talk earlier of a dais split evenly between in-person and virtual appearances, all members except District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo are expected to be in the chamber for next week's meeting, although details could change before July 22.
Set to begin at 4 p.m. next Thursday, the meeting will serve as the first open forum for community members to share their thoughts on the city's spending plan detailed by City Manager Spencer Cronk July 9. The session will also see council schedule specific hearings on items to be included in the city's next budget including Drinking Water Protection Zone capital projects and rate and fee changes for Austin Energy and Austin Resource Recovery.