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City of Austin discusses use of surplus funds

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It's good news for Austin. The Capitol City is doing so well sales tax revenues were higher than expected in 2012, contributing to a surplus in city funds.

"We identified a total of $14.3 million. Some of it from our previous year's ending balance and from the sales tax money," said Austin's Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo.

He says now it's time to decide what to do with the extra money. Tuesday council members met to discuss some of the projects they think need funding right away.

The most expensive could be $10 million going toward affordable housing. Last November voters turned down a $78 million bond for it, but Van Eenoo says it may be worth it to make the investment.

"There are federal housing projects, and federal matching dollars that we will lose if we don't take action now," he said.

A pilot program spearheaded by Council Member Chris Riley to keep parks open 24-hours a day in hopes of helping transportation, could cost more than $2.2 million in 2013. The Wildfire Fuel Mitigation program, aimed at preventing wildfires in Austin, which got scratched off this year's budget, could also make a comeback with $1.3 Million.

Employee shortages at the Planning and Review Department which has a two to six-month delay in approving permits is a high priority and only costs about $200,000. That one is an easy decision to make says Mayor Lee Leffingwell, but spending Millions on other projects when the money could be saved is a tougher call to make.

"Wouldn't it be great if we could actually have a tax decrease next year?" asked Leffingwell.

He says if some of these projects that have a recurring cost are funded, they may leave no wiggle room in the following budget cycle.

"We have to be careful what we are getting into next year and the year after that," he said.

Council members will take up the discussion again during their council meeting in February.

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