AUSTIN, Texas -- With spring right around the corner, Austin is nearly half way through its budget year. So city staff took a look at the budget to see where it stands and found a $14.2 million surplus.
"The economy is good and that is very good news," said Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole. "And when the economy is good, we end up with budget surpluses, sometimes mid-year."
So where did the money come from? Well for starters, more people are shopping. Sales tax revenue is higher than expected, adding nearly $62,000 to the city's budget. New development fees in 2013 added another $2.1 million. Franchise fees added $5.8 million. And the city has also spent $5.9 million less than expected out of the general fund. The Austin Police Department was a big part of that savings. The department spent $2 million less than expected, primarily on personnel. Plus another $400,000 from various departments.
During a workshop, council members discussed several projects that they would like to see the money used for including a $600,000 commercial kitchen at the Asian American Resource Center and $200,000 for a study to help develop a land-use plan for part of the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.
But in the end, the council decided to save the surplus.
"The needs of the city are truly great and we made a decision today to hold off actually spending any of that money and evaluate in a comprehensive manner what we're going to do with the entire budget," said Cole.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Cole say they would like to use the money to help with affordability in Austin.
"I think overall the entire city is struggling with affordability, and keeping the property tax rate constant or reducing it would be a very good gift to all the taxpayers," said Cole.
Leffingwell released a statement that said in part:
"The possibility of spending the surplus money this way could dramatically impact affordability. I would like to see further discussions on utilizing this money to possibly reduce or eliminate a potential tax increase next year, or use the funds to offset likely utility rate increases.
Additionally, I believe it is more fair for unmet needs across all city departments to be considered at one time, rather than hearing just the items that happen to have the ear of a Council Member. A process where all needs are heard at one time is more transparent and responsible. Trying to spend surplus money at a Work Session does not allow adequate public input, such as would be the case at a regularly scheduled Thursday Council Meeting.
Postponing these items promotes fairness, equity and affordability.”