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Citizens show up for Austin truth-in-taxation meeting

A dozen people sat in the audience for the city of Austin's annual truth-in-taxation meeting Tuesday evening. Austin City Council member Marian Clennon said it was the biggest crowd she's seen.

They were there to hear more about the proposed 2012 budget of more than $30 million, and the potential tax levy increase that would come with it. The proposed tax levy is $3,975,000, which is about a 4 percent decrease from the levy in 2011. However, since the state has eliminated some funding and tax breaks, the levy would increase 13 percent.

The city council voted to move the 2012 budget and the 2012 levy to the Dec. 5 city council meeting for official approval. Those two recommendations passed by 5-2 votes, with Clennon and Judy Enright voting against them.

"I don't think we did enough," Clennon said. "We could've easily had a 5 percent decrease."

Janet Anderson, Jeff Austin, Roger Boughton, Steve King and Brian McAlister voted in favor of the motions.


The city continues to rely on Local Government Aid from the state, to the tune of more than $7 million for the general fund. That's 50.6 percent of the general fund, but that number is down from 2002, when LGA made up 64.9 percent.

"Slowly, we're trying to wean ourselves off of it," said Tom Dankert, director of administrative services.

Citizen input

Citizen Dennis Boik has been a lifelong Austin resident and said he had never attended a truth-in-taxation meeting before, for a reason.

"I personally believe, very strongly, that you don't care what we think," Boik said, addressing Mayor Tom Stiehm and the city council. "We care a lot when we see the tax increases.

"But I'm not here to complain about the taxes. I'm here to tell you to reduce the levy."

Boik told the mayor and council members to "stop blaming the state or the economy," and make some decisions to become more efficient by asking department heads to make cuts. He suggested straight, across the board cuts.

He said they could do better and that they've only given "lip service" to cost reductions so far.


Enright said she believes that departments could make cuts, but if the challenge isn't extended, they won't volunteer to make them. Departments would find a way to survive, even if they make cuts, she said.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," Enright said.

Chamber voice

Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, echoed Boik's thoughts and said the situation is a spending issue. Forstner challenged the council to direct department heads to come up with ways to be more efficient in spending.

"I don't think we can afford to do business as usual," Forstner said.

In response, King offered up his own challenge to have larger corporations provide more livable wages for workers, admittedly a bold statement, he said. King also put a reminder out there that there is value in taxes; they cover things like flood walls, for instance.

Stiehm pointed out that making cuts isn't the only thing the city does as a governing body — it also provides services. Dankert said he had received phone calls from citizens who liked the services provided.

"They want these services," Stiehm said. "That's what we're responding to."


Council member Austin said the council relies on citizen input to make the best decisions possible for the citizens.

"Every council member is a citizen of Austin and we pay taxes," Austin said. "None of us want to pay more taxes."

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