By Bill Oakey – March 18, 2014
Today the Austin City Council did not vote to spend any of the $14.2 million budget surplus. By the time of the 9:00 work session, there was only one spending item left on the table that was directly tied to the surplus. That was Council Member Chris Riley’s $200,000 item to fund a land use study for the South Shore of Lady Bird Lake. He withdrew that item and left open the option to possibly bring it up later.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell opened the meeting with a spirited appeal to the Council not to spend the surplus. In fact, he spoke against the idea of the spending items being placed on a work session agenda. Instead, he called for a more transparent process with public input and fair competition between competing priorities, like they have during the regular annual budget process. The mayor also opposed spending last year’s surplus, but he was outvoted.
Council Member Kathi Tovo emerged as an outstanding example of applying due diligence on behalf of the taxpayers. Although she initially considered using some of the budget surplus to fund a worthy project at a senior recreation center, she worked with City staff to find another funding source. The project can be funded with money available from voter-approved bonds.
But, as it turned out, none of the proposed projects that Council Members had earmarked to be paid for with the budget surplus got approved today, even the ones that can have been funded from other sources. The order of the day was to delay action until a clear policy for any type of budget amendment can be adopted.
There was a revised budget amendment policy on the agenda today, but that was included in this blogger’s request for a delay as well. There are some worthy elements in the proposal, but there is also a giant loophole that needs to be plugged. Thankfully, the City Council voted to postpone action on the policy until April 10th. I hope to meet with the Mayor and some of the Council Members before then to recommend some improvements.
Those of you who are following the affordability issue and bringing your friends onboard are helping to make a difference at City Hall. Your emails to the City Council have been noticed, and that fact was even alluded to at the meeting today. All I can say is please keep it up!. If you ever wondered what the official City of Austin Organization Chart looks like, I will give you a little hint. Guess who is at the very top of the chart? Guess who is higher than the City Manager and even higher than the City Council?
WE ARE! We, the people. And, hey, don’t you ever forget it!