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How Austinites Want To Spend City Money

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 09:47 PM CDT

What if you could be in charge of the city's budget? What services would you spend taxpayer dollars on? Hundreds of Austinites recently took part in an experiment that asked those questions. And Austin City Council members will use the results to help shape next year's budget in August.

The city called it "Budget in a Box." Folks filled out surveys detailing what city services they were willing to pay more for and which services they want cut.

"I would definitely rectify the homeless situation by providing housing for the homeless," said Austinite Eddie Dee when asked what he would do if he had control of the city’s $3 billion budget.

"I would allocate more money toward the toll roads," added Antonio Fraga. "We just have traffic congestion like crazy."

The city said it wanted to hear that taxpayer input.

"It's hard for the staff to get out and facilitate as many meetings as we would like to have with the community," explained Ed Vaneenoo, the Deputy CFO for the City of Austin.

So it created Budget in a Box. The city put hundreds of boxes, full of surveys, all over Austin.
People could evaluate city services like emergency response, housing and streets and infrastructure.

Initial results show the top priority was traffic.

"68 percent of the respondents said they would like to see the city spending more money to help alleviate the traffic congestion," Vaneenoo said.

The majority of Austinites surveyed were also willing to shell out more cash for parks and libraries, planning and economic development, plus health and human services.

"We did not see any service area where people are saying we want that service cut," Vaneenoo said about the respondents. "Even if it results in the savings of my own pocket book, we don't want to see those services cut."

So the message the city is taking to City Council? Austinites are pleased with city services and don't mind enhancing some of them. And as far as people possibly manipulating the budget in a box results?

"We're able to track where the responses are coming from in terms of the computer they're coming from," explained Vaneenoo. "So we do keep an eye out for that so people aren't responding to the survey 25 times and trying to sway the results one way or another."

These aren't the only results the city will bring to City Council.
If you want to weigh in on next year's budget, you'll have the chance. More than 60 public meetings are scheduled before August.

The Budget in a Box surveys cost the city about $3,400 to implement.

By Katherine StolpHow Austinites Want To Spend City Money


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