With the start of the City of Austin's 2014 budget season, city officials are looking to engage the public about what programs and services residents find to be a priority.
"The one thing you need to understand about the city's budget is that it's large and it's complex," Deputy Budget Officer Ed Van Eenoo said. "We're a big city, we have over 30 operating departments, we have a budget of about $3.1 billion and we understand that that's very difficult for the general members of the public to approach because it is so large."
One tool the city is encouraging residents use to provide feedback to the city is the Budget-in-a-Box. Similar to the Meeting-in-a-Box, a tool the city used to gather feedback about the Imagine Austin plan, the Budget-in-a-Box tool is designed for a group of five to 10 people and includes material about city services and ways for participants to provide feedback about what their service priorities are and about the city's tax rate.
"Anybody who's interested, we'd love to hear your feedback for the coming budget cycle about what you think the city should be investing its funds in for the upcoming budget year," Van Eenoo said.
The city also has an eight-minute budget basics video so residents can become acquainted with city services, their costs and how they are funded as well as a series of departmental videos detailing revenue and expenditures, services and needs for the various departments.
By August, city staff expects to have a draft budget presented to City Council, and council is set to approve a budget and tax rate in September.
"Overall, we want to take the mystery out of the budget process and be as transparent as possible," City Manager Marc Ott said.
Boxes are available at all city libraries or by calling 512-974-2324. Boxes will be available until June 7. For more information about the budget engagement services offered by the city, visit www.austintexas.gov/biab.