It’s that time of year again. The City of Austin is starting its annual budget process and it needs your help. We know that budgets, numbers, and graphs can sound boring, but the city’s budget is definitely not something to ignore.
It really does affect your everyday life, from how much you pay toward property taxes, to the quality of our parks and opens spaces, to public safety. You’d be hard pressed to find a clearer example of how government affects your life (and why you should get involved) than a city’s budget.
So here’s where we’re at right now….
Every year, around this time, the City of Austin Budget Office begins collecting public input on budget priorities. They do this with an online tool that allows you to share your opinions about where the city should be spending more or less money. The Budget Office and the City Manager then take all that information and use it when writing up the city’s draft budget, which is presented to City Council in the summer. You can fill out the online survey here>>
After that, City Council spends a good portion of August editing, changing, and debating that draft budget. (There are additional opportunities for you to get involved in the budget process once the draft gets sent to City Council as well). The city’s new budget then goes into effect on October 1st.
A few key things to note…
The City of Austin is not the only government agency that contributes to your property taxes. In fact, it’s only responsible for about 20 percent of what you ultimately pay. The rest goes to the Austin Independent School District, Austin Community College, Travis County, and Central Health. So, while the city’s budget process (and their decision whether or not to raise taxes) will definitely impact your property tax bill, it’s not the only factor.
What did last year’s budget look like?
Going into this year’s budget season, it can be helpful to look at what last year’s budget looked like. Below is a chart showing where the city spent its General Fund budget in its 2016 – 2017 fiscal year (which is still going on right now).
As you can see, the vast majority of the budget goes toward public safety, which is just the umbrella term for police, fire, and EMS services. Another 22 percent of the budget goes toward “community services,” which includes libraries, parks and recreation, and animal services. Five percent of the budget goes toward “development,” which is the term for the city departments that handle building inspections and permits.
What’s a General Fund?
As you’re following along with the news of the city’s budget process, you will likely hear the term General Fund pop up a lot. Last year, the city’s total budget was $3.7 billion. A lot of that money goes toward our city’s two major utilities (Austin Water and Austin Energy), but it’s not discussed as much during budget season because the funds for Austin Water and Austin Energy come from utility bills from customers (as opposed to property taxes).