The Austin City Council today approved multiple items spending almost a $1M without knowing how successful these programs were in the past and what the success criteria would be going forward. Based on that, Council Member Don Zimmerman voted against these programs.
Zimmerman stated “It’s a terrible practice to keep voting for spending when we can’t see what the agreement [final contract] is and we don’t know what the metrics are as to whether the money was used wisely or if it ended up getting wasted. This is the way we waste taxpayers’ money. We don’t see what we’re voting on, we don’t know if it’s effective or not.”
Last year the City gave the Latino Healthcare Forum and Foundation Communities a total of $242,000 to sign people up for the federal Affordable Care Act. According to City Staff, Travis County has about 200,000 individuals that don’t have health insurance. What did the $242,000 get the City? How many people did the companies sign up and how many of those people remained signed up? How much does it cost to sign up an individual? The City simply does not know and it would “require a fair amount of Staff time” to find out. Today, the Council approved giving these organizations $300,000 to provide the same services this fiscal year.
In another item, the City approved a $499,989 grant from the Federal Government regarding entrepreneurship for companies in Pakistan. While Zimmerman believes that foreign trade is a good thing, how would this program be beneficial to the City? What would the metrics of success be? What is the return on investment? The Council doesn’t know yet the majority voted to pass it.
In a third example, the Council approved $100,000 for a program with the University of Texas at Austin’s “IC2 Institute”. City Staff believes this will help between 20-100 small companies to grow. Growing small businesses is a noble goal, but it needs to be defined more. Due to this program, how much should the small companies grow? How much in incremental taxes will these companies be paying due to this institute? When will the City get a return on the $100,000 investment?
All of these programs may be a great use of tax dollars. However, the City Staff is unable to provide any quantifiable results or goals for them. As a prerequisite to spending taxpayer money, shouldn’t the City have quantifiable measures of success? Shouldn’t it have an idea for what the money will accomplish? Instead of just arbitrarily passing out money, the City Staff needs to have a plan and allow Council to decide if the cost is worth the expected benefits. The City Staff and Council should be held accountable for results instead of just auto-renewing programs.