The political elite continues to prove how out of touch they are with the needs of regular Americans, evidenced today by Austin City Council members who have approved a whopping 40% salary increase for themselves in the midst of an affordability crisis in the city of Austin.
While Austin council members are preoccupied with how to line their own pockets, Austin locals are dealing with unprecedented inflation and an affordability crisis. Council members, however, have been receiving cost-of-living increases every year; their current annual salary previously $83,158.40 and the mayor’s $97,656. The approved ordinance is increasing the annual base salary for council members to $116,688 and the salary for the mayor to $134,191.56, a 40% increase in pay from 2022 to 2023. This will cost taxpayers an additional $350,000 a year.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Austin’s previous council member salary of $83,158 is more than what the average household in Austin earns- $75,752. It is also much higher than what council members make in Dallas ($60,000), El Paso ($52,500), San Antonio ($45,722), Fort Worth (enshrined in the city charter at $25,000), and Houston ($62,983, although they’re part-timers and have a different style of government).
It’s hard to overlook the huge difference between the proposed salary increase and the salaries of teachers, first responders and others who serve the public. Austin-Travis County medics, health workers, security guards, and other city employees are struggling to make ends meet with the rising cost of living in the city. Earlier this year, the city offered EMS providers a 14-cent raise when they negotiated for more pay after working through the pandemic and the 2021 Texas snowstorm Uri.
Alyssa Magnum, who formerly worked for Austin-Travis County EMS, told the Austin Monitor she found herself with no choice but to resign in late April after the city offered EMS workers that 14-cent-an-hour raise. Magnum realized she could “literally go work anywhere else” and make more money. Many city workers have said they know of co-workers who are leaving to take other jobs with higher wages.
EMS is grossly underpaid and therefore dramatically understaffed. Alyssa Magnum says she was working back-to-back 24-hour shifts because the agency was down by almost 150 medics. Other EMS workers described working incredibly long hours and having to shut down ambulances due to staffing shortages. Magnum says those who were not actually sick but needed to take a personal day to rest “got in trouble for it.” Magnum, who lives in Buda, said most of her co-workers simply can’t afford the cost of living in Austin.
Dozens of other city workers have had to beg the city for a pay raise. At the city council meeting on June 16th, Shelby Hindman, a communications medic, opened up about some of the struggles her and her coworkers were facing at Austin-Travis County EMS. She said they were being called in on their days off every week. “We are so understaffed in communications that sometimes in a 12-hour period, I can’t even get up from my desk for a water break, to go to the bathroom. It is so hard.” Hindman told the council members. Hindman has a one-year-old son at home and it’s difficult for her to organize her life since her husband is also an Austin paramedic. Predictably, her husband couldn’t attend the meeting that day because he was called in to work.
Rodney Sutton, who drives one of Austin’s trash collection trucks, said some of the trucks don’t even have A/C right now and can reach temperatures up to 130 degrees during the day. Sutton also spoke out about his struggle to afford to live in the city and take care of his son as a single dad. “Austin gave me a chance to make it, and I’m making it, but now when the prices start to elevate, we’re losing,” he said.
Many people are realizing their money isn’t stretching nearly as far as it used to in Central Texas. Inflation is driving up the price of many items at the grocery store. In addition, a sizzling housing market in Austin is forcing homebuyers to overpay for real estate. According to Axios, the pandemic inflated metro Austin housing prices by nearly 68% above the historical trend line, making the local market the most overpriced it’s been in at least thirty years. An April study by Florida Atlantic University showed Austin as the second most overpriced housing market in the country.
A report titled “Out of Reach 2021” shows minimum wage workers struggle to pay rent in Austin more than any other Texas city. Austin is being called “one of the least affordable cities in America,” according to a forecast prepared by Zillow in 2021. It had already surpassed hot markets in Boston, Miami and New York City when this forecast was published last year. The numbers are likely much higher today, so it is not a good time for the Austin city council to be patting itself on the back.
However, it clearly pays well to work for the city if you are an Austin city council member, regardless of the condition of the city or its residents. As another example of how poorly administrated our taxpayer dollars are, it was recently revealed that the city of Austin is paying $136,011.20, plus sizeable benefits, to employ a Homeless Strategy Officer, which is very difficult to believe given the immense homeless problem in the city and its downward spiral in past years.
Austin council members have consistently claimed they don’t have enough money for adequate city services, such as maintaining our public areas, hiring enough police to keep the city safe, or giving EMS workers a livable wage. However, they clearly have no problem overspending if it goes towards feathering their caps. There are clearly 2 classes of citizens, the ones who get rich, and those who are left to subsidize their lifestyles.