Leading up to their mid-August vote on Austin's fiscal year 2023-24 budget, City Council members have shared millions of dollars worth of priorities, ranging from city staffing and resident assistance programs to parks and public safety, that will be considered for funding in the week ahead.

The big picture

As laid out prior to their Aug. 10 meeting, officials' funding wishlist added up to $26.1 million in one-time spending for FY 2023-24 as well as $18.76 million in expenses that'd continue annually. An additional $2.11 million in requests could be backed by debt.

Various council adjustments and other savings have lowered those totals a bit. And since interim City Manager Jesús Garza presented his draft budget document earlier this summer, finance staff also identified an extra $7.8 million of one-off funding and $7.5 million in recurring dollars to help offset council requests.

After presenting dozens of proposed budget amendments, council members will now have to decide which of those items they'll be able to include in the final budget. Discussions and a vote on the spending plan will begin Aug. 16 and could run through Aug. 18.

“All members of the council know that we don’t have all the money available to pay for all of the potential amendments, and that’s going to require some discipline on the part of the council as we go forward," Mayor Kirk Watson said.

Council members laid out their priorities across several subject areas. A full unedited list of budget amendments may be viewed here or via council's message board.

Public safety

Several asks are aimed at various aspects of public safety in Austin, including:
  • $770,000 to fund 10 victim services counselor positions at the Austin Police Department on an ongoing basis: The counselors would work with sexual assault and domestic violence victims as well as victims of crimes such as hate crimes and fraud. Council Member Alison Alter said the funding is necessary to fulfill the city's commitment to supporting sexual assault victims following a legal settlement over the Austin Police Department's systemic mishandling of such cases.
“We made promises to survivors and advocates during the sexual assault settlement,” Alter said. “In my opinion, these are promises that we definitely all need to honor.”
  • $550,000 in the upcoming budget and $1.1 million annually going forward for the Collaborative Care Communication Center program that allows EMS medics to address some calls including opioid response without using an ambulance, saving time and resources for more intense incidents
“While this may seem like a high price tag at first glance, we’re really saving money overall in other areas,” Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said.
  • A $500,000 one-off allocation for drink-spiking testing and nightlife safety training, expanding the Safer Sixth Street initiative
  • $183,000 to rewrap dozens of APD vehicles, a request Kelly said would improve the police fleet and officer morale

Officials are also seeking to build on the tens of millions of dollars already set aside for homelessness response efforts.

“I just think it is critical that we continue to make sustained investments in addressing our unhoused population. ... While I appreciate the manager for making increased investments in homelessness throughout the budget, we have a growing need, and it is going to be increasing our investments to even keep up with where we are,” Council Member Ryan Alter said.

Budget amendments include:
  • A one-time $3 million allotment for services at permanent supportive housing, or PSH, facilities to assist clients exiting homelessness and $1.5 million in continuing funding for 100 additional housing vouchers to get unhoused Austinites into PSH
  • $250,000 in FY 2023-24 and more than $833,000 in following years to expand walk-up homeless services citywide: Access is currently available only at the Downtown Austin Community Court and in a single South Austin location. Ryan Alter said the money could help bring kiosks or other remote options to places such as hospitals and shelters.
“If we want to make a dent in that situation and help lift people out of homelessness, the best way to do that is to provide those services to them and meet them where they are,” Kelly said.
  • Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison is also asking the city to launch a mobile court pilot through the DACC, which mainly serves the homeless, to handle cases where clients are located. The update would come as the DACC's service area is set to grow across Austin.
Affordability and child care

Several council members are seeking to build on targeted affordability initiatives after beginning the year with a focus on support for families with children. Those include:
  • $7.8 million for tenant rental assistance, building off of an extended contract with El Buen Samaritano council voted to approve in July: In the face of persistent affordability concerns and gentrification, Council Member Chito Vela said the allocation would be the most Austin's ever spent on tenant stabilization and would ensure the city has dollars available for renters in need.
  • $2.4 million to expand the services of parent support specialists—offering family and employment financial assistance to more vulnerable parents of Austin ISD students—across more district campuses as well as more than $539,000 to continue the city's backing of AISD after-school programming and tutoring for economically disadvantaged students
  • $1.3 million to continue Austin's inaugural guaranteed income program—to be rebranded as the Family Stabilization Grant Program—which sends $1,000 checks to dozens of lower-income families each month
“We already know six months into [the guaranteed income program’s] pilot year that it’s a success. We’ve heard from families who participated in this program at both of our budget testimony hearings who talked about having access to this type of financial assistance that’s really helped provide that stabilization, has helped with housing security, and it has helped ensure that our families are not falling into homelessness," Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said.
  • $1 million to offer more city employees child care benefits
“With Austin becoming more and more unaffordable, it’s absolutely necessary that we find ways to expand child care, especially for our city employees," Council Member José Velásquez said.

Parks and recreation

Several officials are also seeking improvements to Austin's green spaces with a few funding items also geared toward responding to extreme heat and wildfire risk, such as:
  • $2 million to build more shading structures at parks citywide, particularly on the east side, where tree canopy coverage is less extensive: The request from Vela builds on more than $200,000 already allocated to add shade at two parks.
  • $650,000 in annual spending to plant thousands of trees across the city through the Austin Energy NeighborWoods program, addressing civic climate goals and widespread damage to the tree canopy that took place through recent winter storms, especially in East Austin
“It is really hot outside, and it’s going to be for quite some time, but a way to reduce the impact of the heat is a greater tree canopy. And more trees not only means more shade, but less carbon in the atmosphere and reduced heat-island effect,” Ryan Alter said. “We unfortunately can’t plant 50-year-old trees. The investments we make today make it possible for future generations to enjoy a robust tree canopy.”
  • $565,000 to fund 10 employee positions to handle maintenance at parks and other public facilities
“Right now, [the Austin Parks and Recreation Department is] lacking the adequate staffing to properly maintain the parks, rec facilities, cultural centers and pools. And we wanted to have this line item in there just reflective of the current need for ... extra hands on deck,” Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis said.
  • $350,000 to bring on seven more lifeguards to work city pools year-round as part of a longer-term goal to staff up lifeguard ranks on a permanent basis
  • $274,000 to bolster Austin's wildfire preparedness efforts, especially in the wake of multiple local fires reported this summer