Marc Ott posted a comment to the last post on possible budget cuts. We are posting it as a guest post, since we feel he has a right to speak directly to North Austinites about our concerns. Thank you Marc Ott for reaching out to us!
Mary – I have to say that I’m surprised, disappointed and more than a little offended at the recent message sent to your membership. While public debate among budget priorities is healthy and fundamental to our democracy, to question my commitment as a public servant and to declare outright that I’m a liar is something I simply can’t ignore. In fact, it flies in the face of the 35-year commitment I have made to serve the public. To make such a public declaration about anyone, regardless of the circumstance, requires knowledge of a person and that person’s character that you and I do not share.
Perhaps an orientation to our budget process is in order, and I would hope that you share this with your networks.
First, we are very early in the budget process. My responsibility and the responsibility of our budget staff is to provide an accurate forecast of revenues and expenditures, as well as projected scenarios based on the feedback we’ve received from Council. This year, that has included a variety of scenarios from a 20% homestead reduction to a tax freeze for seniors and the disabled. We develop conservative estimates and convey to the Council – and to the community – what service impacts may result from implementing those scenarios. This is not the first time that we’ve asked departments to provide potential service reductions as a means of developing a sound and responsible budget proposal.
At this stage in the process, it’s a conversation and not a proposal. There is no budget proposal, nor are there proposed cuts. There are options for discussion, and opening that discussion to the Public Safety Commission – and to the public in general – is the right and appropriate thing to do. It’s the same process that’s happening with all of our departments and their respective boards and commissions. We’ll then take all of that feedback, along with suggestions from Council and our most recent estimates to provide our proposed budget in August.
Second, your sources seem to be intentionally obscuring financial facts to convey a story that simply doesn’t exist. Our financial forecasts are based on actual projected revenues and expenditures and not on other sources (like the Budget Stabilization Reserve) that are only allocated to one-time expenses and not ongoing operational expenses. To use reserves as a means of funding known, ongoing expenses would be akin to an individual using long-term savings to pay their monthly mortgage.
I think it’s also worth noting that the documentation you reference is part of a publicly-available resource of Council budget questions and answers – a resource created after my arrival to improve transparency in the budget process. So the suggestion that anyone here at the City would be hiding information is patently false.
Mary, as a respected community leader, I would expect some measure of fact-checking prior to drawing the conclusions you seem to have drawn. I would also expect the courtesy of reaching out before making such public and defamatory assertions about my conduct as a public servant.
Marc A. Ott, City Manager