Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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Affordable housing gets bulk of budget surplus

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TWC News: Affordable housing gets bulk of budget surplus
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On Tuesday, Austin leaders divvied up an unexpected budget surplus of $13.5 million .

About $180,000 will go to the Austin Police Department so they can expand their currently-overwhelmed forensics lab. Investigators sometimes wait up to 10 months to have evidence tested.

"It's a little uncomfortable to start getting letters from our judges—and we've gotten messages from our constituents—suggesting that we are not appropriately funding this area," Council Member Kathie Tovo said.

The city's planning department will receive enough money to add four people. Three-fourths of the review staff left last year, just as site plan submissions soared.

Council members originally wanted to set aside $4 million for tax relief in 2014. That amount quickly diminished to less than $500,000.

The bulk of surplus—$10 million dollars— will be spent on affordable housing initiatives.

A city proposition which would have allotted nearly $80 million for affordable housing failed when put before Austin voters in November. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole worries Tuesday’s move could cause a backlash.

“The appropriate action for us to take is to go out to the voters and explain the necessity of these funds and what we actually do with them," Mayor Pro Tem Cole said.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the lone no vote, citing a concern that City Council isn't saving enough to ensure a property tax decrease.

"I would certainly strive to do that, but I think we are going to be facing the opposite problem," Mayor Leffingwell said.

City policy only allows the Council to modify the budget once during the fiscal year. The next fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

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