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Austin City Council passes 2013 budget

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Austin City Council on Tuesday passed the city’s budget for 2013. The $3.1 billion budget takes effect Oct. 1, and under the new plan, homeowners will be paying a bit more on the appraised value of their property.

The increase comes to about $1.67 a month for an average Austin homeowner. While it may not seem like much, it’s a figure that came after two contentious days of argument between council members on the dais.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell was persistent in his efforts to not see any increase in taxes for anyone this year. In the end, the budget passed 6-1, with Leffingwell casting the only dissenting vote.

"I didn't go into this with the idea of no new taxes," the mayor said. "I'm not going to let this be a unanimous vote and have the entire council approve this budget with a large spending increase."

Council Member Laura Morrison introduced several amendments that made it into the final budget. She says they are well worth the money spent.

"Expand our healthy families program, which reaches out to new families in high-risk areas and folks that have some real health disparities," she said.

Morrison plans to pay for that program by using money that would otherwise go into cash reserves.

"We can get it leveraged to bring back some other grant funding to pay for it and have it be ongoing," she said.

Occupy Austin kicked off the city's last fiscal year--slamming several departments with major overtime bills.

Police Chief Art Acevedo says his overtime budget next fiscal year is one and a half million dollars short of what it was a few years ago.

"Our dollars that we have been reduced significantly,” the chief said. “Plus, those dollars that don't go as far in terms of the number of hours we can use."

Still, Acevedo is gaining 22 officers to keep up with population growth. He hopes to balance his budget through strategy.

"We've completely revamped the way that we staff, including detective back-fills and everything else because we are constantly trying to do more with less in terms of our true budget dollars," he said.

The extra money from the hike will also fund six paramedics and a fire mitigation team.

The city will also gain a short-term rental program, with a staff of three, to ensure city dwellers are registering their short-term rentals and paying the annual fee for the program.

Morrison says in the end, the council was careful to make sure the tax hike best serves the people of Austin.

"I think that the council today was very careful in making sure that we got a lot of bang for our buck for the money that we were moving around and investing in people in this city," she said.

Morrison says before 2008, the council would typically increase the city’s spending by eight percent, but that is not the case anymore, they now try to keep it lower than four.

However, Austinites can expect increases from Austin Energy, Austin Water and Austin Resource Recovery to kick in next month.

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