The Austin City Council has adopted its budget for the next fiscal year. For the first time in more than a decade, the council lowered Austin’s tax rate.
The tax rate will drop slightly from 50.29 cents to 50.27 cents per $100 valuation. It puts the budget for next fiscal year just under $800 million.
It is money that will bolster five initiatives Reverend Sandy Jones and Austin Interfaith advocated for. Jones is especially grateful for an additional $350,000 that will restart after-school programs at Travis Heights Elementary and several other schools. They're programs that were slashed during the recession and are just now being restored.
"They do listen, and they do trust us with the ideas that we bring to them," Jones said. "It showed that they care about our youth. They care about the instruction of the youth in our community."
While the tax rate decreased by two-hundredths of a penny, tax bills are still expected to increase by nearly four percent due to rising property values.
Council member Kathie Tovo says that's why her focus was on quality of life programs like parks, pools and libraries.
"People expect an increasing level of services as well,” Tovo said. “It's really difficult, I think, for people in our community to see that our parks aren't as well funded as they might be, that our pool hours are relatively limited."
The parks department will use much of its additional funding to address deferred maintenance and forestry issues. The parks director says it will help create more uniform park appearance citywide and tackle concerns of poor tree maintenance.
Moving forward, Mayor Lee Leffingwell worries this year's budget saddled the council with a slew of new needs that can't be cut.
"I think next year it is going to be a big challenge, but we should set our goals high and go for the effective rate--hopefully not increase taxes at all, but at least hold the rate constant," the mayor said.
Austin Energy customers who live outside the city limits will also see an increase in their power bills.
The city council voted to recoup the $1.6 million the utility spent on legal fees this year--which ended up with out-of-town customers paying less for power than those inside Austin City Limits.