Property Tax Increase, More Jobs Part of Austin Budget Plan

By Sarah Coppola

American-Statesman Staff

The typical Austin household would pay $173 more in city taxes, utility bills and other fees next year under the 2013-14 budget that city officials proposed Thursday.

Austin’s property tax rate would grow from 50.29 cents per $100 of property value to 51.14 cents. For the owner of a median-value home of $185,133 that would mean a city bill of $947, a $50 increase over this fiscal year, when the median-value home was $178,327.

That tax rate is slightly slower than the highest rate the city could choose under state law – 51.34 cents – without triggering a possible election to limit the increase.

Austinites would also pay about $123 more next year for electricity, water and fees that appear on utility bills.

Thursday is the City Council’s first look at the budget plan, and it will hold public hearings about the proposal on Aug. 22 and Aug. 29. The council could change any of the details when it adopts a final tax rate and budget in early September that will take effect Oct. 1.

The plan includes 1.5 percent pay raises for “civilian” or non-public-safety employees, who make up the bulk of the city’s workforce, as well as police officers.

The 1.5 percent increase for police was written into a contract the police union signed recently with the city. Contract negotiations with firefighters and paramedics aren’t finished yet, so it’s not clear what raise they will receive. Civilian workers have no bargaining rights.

All city employees got 3 percent raises this year.

Under the $3.3 billion budget, the city would add 365 jobs to its nearly 12,400-person payroll, including 47 police officers to keep pace with Austin’s standard of two officers per every 1,000 residents.

Other jobs that would be added include 20 parks staffers to maintain city-owned cemeteries (replacing a contractor that has previously done the work) and 23 jobs in the planning department to inspect and permit new construction. That department has been dealing with a backlog of permit requests as development picks up again.

The budget also includes money to continue programs that the City Council began recently or agreed to start in 2014, including paid parental leave (paid time off for employees who give birth to or adopt a child) and police patrols along three hike-and-bike trails to keep those trails open at night.

Also in the plan is money for big construction projects that are already underway, including a new central library, a tunnel to control flooding along Waller Creek and a water treatment plant in Northwest Austin.

Austin’s financial outlook is rosy because sales tax revenue, which makes up a fifth of the money that pays for most city services, has bounced back from big drops during the economic downturn.

The property that the city can tax has also increased as many new homes, apartments and commercial projects are built.

If the city kept in place the current property tax rate of 50.29 cents, the owners of a median-value home would pay $931 next year – a smaller increase of $34.

But budget staffers said the city would be short several million dollars at that rate, partly because of increases that are beyond the city’s control, such as health insurance costs.



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