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Budget surplus triggers debate over spending plans

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The city of Austin has a $14 million budget surplus and some bond money that's available. So, what to do with it?

For council members having a budget surplus can be a blessing and a curse. This one totals $14 million which is why Austin mayor lee Leffingwell is urging caution.

"Well we talk the talk and now we have to walk the walk," said the Mayor.

Tuesday, during a work session, council members debated whether or not they should tap into the surplus, as well as unused bond money, for several projects. Council woman Kathie Tovo argued that $600,000 in bond money should be used to build out a promised kitchen inside the Austin Asian- American Resource Center. A larger design was part of the original design, but was cut backed during construction.

"My point here is that we do make decisions mid-year to spend money that was not initially contemplated in our annual budget and I think it is important the public should know that sometimes there are needs that arise opportunities that need to be addressed," said Tovo.

But the majority on the council decided the kitchen wasn't a pressing issue. The renovation project idea was put on hold until a new budget assessment is done in late April. Hitting the brakes troubled Tovo because of another unexpected opportunity.

There is a push to buy the Grey Rock Golf Course in south Austin, which recently became available. The multimillion dollar purchase would replace Lyons-Munie Golf Course which UT is taking back from the city. The two projects created confusion and conflict during the meeting.

"The urgency about the golf course is this property is on the market now, the alternative is it would not remain a golf course if we didn't take advantage of this opportunity, instead it will be a large subdivision over the recharge zone and that is what makes it an extra ordinary circumstance," said Mayor Leffingwell.

While the council debated, taxpayer advocate Don Zimmerman offered his own idea.

"To us the dilemma is this is an unaffordable city due to the high taxes that's what the dilemma is, and the dilemma for the city council seems to be is how can we spend more money."

Zimmerman says the surplus would go back to Austin residents in the form of a property tax rebate.

The Mayor said he will give the rebate idea serious consideration. Staff members for council member Tovo said she plans to bring the kitchen renovation job back up. The golf course idea, which has a $9.6 million price tag, is expected to be discussed during the next council meeting.

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