How Should The City Spend Its Money? You Decide.

Money

It’s the most exciting time of the year! The city’s annual budgeting process has begun.

Okay, we admit it, budgeting might not sound like the sexiest topic… but it is important. Not only is the city’s budget derived from your tax dollars, but how it’s spent has a big impact on our city’s parks, animal shelters, affordability, and economic development.

So how does it work?

Step 1 – Each year, the City of Austin Budget Office begins collecting public input on budget priorities. 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. This is the step we’re on now.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Take an online survey
  • Attend a budget talk event – the city is hosting public budget events in each City Council district, starting on May 12th
  • Follow along with the city’s Reddit Ask Me Anything on Monday, May 7th at 10am
  • Submit your comments directly to BudgetQA@austintexas.gov or call 512-974-1380
  • Attend an upcoming board or commission meeting – many of the city’s citizen boards and commissions play a role in the budgeting process by making recommendations on budget items to City Council. If you have a budget opinion on a particular issue, you can bring it directly to the relevant commission.

Step 2 – Starting in the mid to late summer, City Council then sinks its teeth into the draft budget, editing, changing, and debating it.

Public hearings are held at the end of August and the new budget goes into effect on October 1st.

A little bit of background info…

The budgeting process can be a bit complex, so we wanted to share with you some facts and figures to contextualize our city’s budget and to make it a little easier for you to give informed feedback.

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.

Average Tax Bill
Proposed Tax Bill for Median-Value Home in FY 2018. photo from the City of Austin’s Budget Office.

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 2017 – 2018 fiscal year (which is still going on right now).

2018 Austin Budget
Austin’s 2018 budget

 

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.

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 $3.9 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).

2018 Budget
photo from the City of Austin Budget Office

The General Fund usually gets the most attention because it’s where a majority of the city’s discretionary spending comes into play. Last year’s General Fund was $1.03 billion.

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