Austin City Council cuts $537,000
By Christina Killion Valdez
After three weeks of debating what should and shouldn’t be cut, the Austin City Council took an official $537,548 swipe at the city’s expenses during the council meeting Monday.
Faced with an estimated $579,898 reduction in local government aid from the state this year, the council worked from a 100-item list of possible budget cuts and revenue enhancements presented by department heads from every facet of the city. The council unanimously approved all of the cuts it had moved forward during three previous work sessions.
Spared from the cuts this time was the Spamtown Belle boat, which operates on Mill Pond. However, information on hidden costs of running the boat at Mill Pond were brought to the council by Kim Underwood, director of Austin’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.
"Every year, our department puts the boat in," she said, explaining expenses not included in the $1,100 budget for the boat. "We put the dock in. If the boat has a problem, we pull it out and put it back in. Once a week, the maintenance person from the pool makes sure there’s gas in the cans so it’s available for the boat captain to fill tanks."
In light of the new information, the council decided to investigate the cost of funding the boat and decide how it should be budgeted at a later meeting.
A plea to continue funding of Austin’s Convention and Visitors Bureau at the current level garnered discussion, but in the end it also was cut.
"Tourism plus promotion equals jobs in Minnesota," said Cheryl Corey, CVB executive director. "I feel it’s in Austin’s best interest to keep on marketing fully all that we have here to keep bringing in visitors."
In 2001, the city increased the amount of funding it provides the bureau through lodging taxes from 95 percent to 98 percent based on a need presented by the bureau in the face of decreased travel, said Tom Dankert, the city’s finance director. Going back to 95 percent level would amount to about $4,000 of the bureau’s annual $120,000 budget.
"The Convention and Visitors Bureau is an economic development tool for us," said council member-at-large Janet Anderson. "We should take that into consideration and make them a little different than other line items. This is a tough time for city, I know, but we have to keep in balance the things producing economic development and advantages for the city."
"When you look line item by line item, every entity is going to take a hit," said council member Steve King. "There’s just no way around it."
A version of the story appeared in the Austin Post-Bulletin.