Director of Administrative Services for the city of Austin Tom Dankert discussed local government aid and work upcoming on the city’s budget for 2024 with the Austin City Council at a work session following their regularly scheduled meeting Monday evening.
Dankert stated to the council that the city is expected to receive a local government aid payment from the state for 2024 totaling $9,793,547, an increase of over $910,000 from 2023. Dankert went on to state that additionally, the city of Austin’s joint Law Enforcement Center costs are expected to decrease $125,000 from $550,000 annually to $425,000 under a prior agreement, and he added that ideally, the city would like to have new revenue to cover wage and benefit increases in the General and Library Funds, and in Internal Service Funds totaling $1.093 million. Dankert went on to tell the council that it appears the city will be allocated approximately $1.159 million in Public Safety Aid, and he added that an additional allocation of $120,070 in estimated aid is also earmarked for the city for affordable housing initiatives. Work for the council on the city’s budget for 2024 will start at their next meeting on June 20th.
In other business at their work session, the Austin City Council discussed staffing needs for the Austin Police Department with Chief Dave McKichan who stated that with Austin’s population growing, the department is looking to add to its current roster of 32 officers. Chief McKichan told the council that he inquired of five area comparable cities, where he stated that Austin is now second in population, but sixth in staffing per citizens. McKichan stated in a memo to the council that his department sees a similar amount of type 1 crime, a slightly higher amount of type 2 crimes, and he indicated that the city leads the other five comparable cities in arrests made per data from the 2020 MN BCA Uniform Crime Report.
Chief McKichan went on to state that he does not think the department can accomplish the work asked of them with an authorized staffing level of 34 licensed peace officers if and when fully staffed, and he added that the department is at time where the city’s population gains and added expectations of officers have led him to recommend to Council the addition of two officers to increase their authorized staffing to 36 officers. After considerable discussion, a motion by the council to budget for 36 officers, but to try to increase the current staffing level from 32 to 34 was turned down on a vote of 4-3, with councilmembers Geoff Baker, Jeff Austin and Jason Basking voting in favor of the motion, while councilmembers Paul Fischer, Joyce Poshusta, Laura Helle and Mike Postma voted against. Another motion that followed to budget for an increase to 36 officers through 2024 was approved unanimously.