Austin police measure could cause financial hardship if passed in November
A vote in November for increase the strength of the Austin Police Department could end up costing the city $ 54 million to $ 119 million per year over the next five years and would require offsetting cuts in city services or tax increases, according to new financial estimates from the city’s budget office.
The analysis was released on Wednesday, and Austin city council members launched a meteoric attack on the proposal, raising concerns about the potential financial impact it could have on taxpayers if voters approve it. Mackenzie Kelly was the only council member who voted in favor of outright passing the ordinance without putting it on the ballot.
The initiative comes from Save Austin Now, the political action committee on a wave of momentum after spurring the successful vote to reinstate the camping ban for the homeless in the May election. The PAC secured the police staffing action on the ballot by collecting petitions from registered voters, 25,000 of which were verified by the city clerk.
If approved by voters, the Save Austin Now proposal would require the city to employ no less than two officers per 1,000 population, run no less than three cadet training courses per year for several years to come, and ensure that that 35% of an officer’s quarter be devoted to community service. It would also offer financial incentives to officers who learn a foreign language and demonstrate good behavior.
The financial analysis presented by CFO Ed Van Eenoo includes two scenarios, each of which takes into account unknown variables such as the city’s population growth, agent salary increases and the department’s attrition rate. In order to accommodate a larger police force, the forecast reflected the costs of building one to three police stations and the purchase of additional police vehicles. Van Eenoo also said more than two agents per 1,000 people would be needed to meet the 35% community engagement time requirement.
Both cost estimates were planned over five years. The lowest estimate is $ 271.5 million and provides for the hiring of 403 new officers. The highest estimate is $ 598.8 million and includes 885 new agents.
The police department currently has over 1,600 sworn officers, about 400 less than the staff level that would be needed if the Save Austin Now plan were in effect right now.
Several board members criticized the proposal at Wednesday’s board meeting. Leslie Pool called it “fiscally irresponsible”. Greg Casar said it would “devastate existing services” and presented a PowerPoint handout suggesting that the higher cost could result in the closure of libraries, swimming pools and parks, or the layoff of 1,425 city workers.
City council chose not to adopt the petition language proposed by Save Austin Now and proposed its language for the November ballot. Mayor Steve Adler said the Save Austin Now verbiage omitted several key details, including costs and minimum staffing levels.
The voting language approved by council reads as follows:
“Proposition A: Should an ordinance be approved which, at an estimated cost of $ 271.5 million to $ 598.8 million over five years, requires the City to employ at all times at least 2 police officers to 1,000 residents; requires at least 35% of patrol officers time must be uncommitted time, also known as community engagement time; requires additional financial incentives for some officers; requires specific types of training for officers and some public officials and their staff; and requires there to be at least three full-time cadet classes for the department until staffing levels reach a specific level? ”
The caption to SAN’s petition reads: “An ordinance sought to improve public safety and police oversight, transparency and accountability by adding a new Chapter 2 through 16 to establish minimum positions for the service of police to ensure effective public safety and to protect Austin residents and visitors, and prescribing minimum requirements to achieve this. ”
Save Austin Now attorney Bill Aleshire told the US statesman on Wednesday night that he intended to take legal action this week, just as he did when the council municipal refused to adopt the voting language proposed by the PAC for the May elections. Aleshire said he plans to file an emergency petition for a mandamus order with the 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court.
“The board’s inclusion of the unverified and undocumented cost speculation memo in last-minute ballot language will be fatal to its attempt to defend the board’s language,” Aleshire wrote in an email. “But this case will first test whether Austin City Council must comply with the City of Austin Charter and whether Austin residents can apply for an ordinance and state what the voting language will be instead of leaving the city council (which does not support the petition) are manipulating the language of the ballot to try to defeat it. “
The ballot measurement debate comes a year after city council voted to reduce or reallocate $ 150 million from the police department’s budget and eliminate 150 vacant officer positions. The council also canceled three classes of cadets, which are needed to fill vacancies. The downsizing led to the petition campaign, with Save Austin Now executives Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek saying the city does not have enough police staff to tackle violent crime.
Former city council member Bill Spellman told the meeting the city needs more officers, but the Save Austin Now proposal is not the way forward as it would force the city to meet a standard as rigid. Spelman, who served on the board from 1997 to 2000 and again from 2009 to 2015, is a former University of Texas professor who conducts studies in police staffing.
Later in Wednesday’s meeting, the board added a second proposal to the November ballot. Proposal B allows the city to cede or lease nine acres of parkland through a public tendering process. The property is a maintenance facility adjacent to Oracle’s head office at 2525 S. Lakeshore Blvd. Several people told the American-Statesman that Oracle hopes to acquire the property.