AUSTIN, TX — The city manager on Wednesday published an end of year review summarizing the city’s work throughout 2020 while paying tribute to the community and municipal workers for their “unwavering resilience” during the coronavirus pandemic.
The review highlights how the city has made progress on its core strategic priorities while battling a global pandemic, supporting Austin’s most vulnerable communities, and mobilizing more than half the city’s workforce to work remotely with minimal service disruption to municipal operations as the virus took hold, the city manager explained in an advisory.
“I am continually inspired by the unwavering resilience of this community and our City of Austin employees,” Cronk wrote in the review’s introduction. “Austin has and continues to endure the effects of a worldwide pandemic that has challenged our economy, stressed our healthcare system, and fed off, if not deepened, historic disparities.”
But while this year presented the city with “countless challenges,” Cronk wrote, “it also offered many opportunities to demonstrate our city at its best. Through all the turbulence, City of Austin employees continued serving our community when they needed us most.”
Since the pandemic began in early 2020, Cronk said, the combined efforts of residents, community leaders and municipal workers have resulted in the Austin area experiencing the lowest total COVID-19 positive cases per capita compared to peer metropolitan cities in Texas. The city also has worked to ensure that residents and businesses recover from financial hardships caused by the pandemic, distributing more than $128 million to childcare providers, live music venues, individuals, families and small businesses.
And while the COVID-19 public health crisis hit Austin’s homeless community particularly hard, Cronk added, the city and its partners continued to make progress towards its goal of ending homelessness — illustrated by the 1,387 people who successfully transitioned into housing and out of homelessness this year.
“While 2020 may have tested us in many ways, as an organization and a community, we rose to the challenge,” Cronk said. “City employees, especially our public health care workers and first responders, stepped up repeatedly to answer the call and serve our community with unyielding dedication.”
2020 Year in Review: Highlights
Economic Opportunity & Affordability
Austin’s Housing and Planning Department continued efforts to increase the number of newly constructed affordable housing units and, working with Real Estate Services, identified and acquired hotel properties for future conversion into permanent supportive housing units.
The Economic Development Department within five months established seven new programs to distribute millions in recovery dollars to individuals, families, local businesses, and non-profits. The department also trained hundreds of Austin residents to be better prepared for the existing and future job market, provided classes and coaches which helped thousands of others to continue working. They also assisted small businesses who in turn created more jobs.
Health & Environment and Culture & Lifelong Learning
Austin Public Health and Homeland Security and Emergency Management led the COVID-19 response, which included an online platform for public assessment and drive-through testing appointments, a telephone hotline for the restaurant community, and lodging facilities for vulnerable communities.
Austin Energy and Austin Water focused on investments in a variety of energy, water, and air quality programs and initiatives, emphasizing conservation and environmental protection and helping reduce the city’s municipal carbon footprint.
Austin Public Library increased the number of cardholders and virtual library users this year, along with boosting its community resources — from online video programming and a job portal to curbside service and a book mobile.
Voters approved a property tax investment to support the creation, operation, and maintenance of a high-capacity transit system after the city provided the funding options behind the Project Connect Vision Plan. The plan includes two new light rail lines, a downtown tunnel, new Metro Rapid service, new neighborhood circulators, park and rides and more.
The Austin Transportation Department supported the COVID-19 response implementing the Healthy Streets initiative, and reduced speed limits on 850 miles of residential streets, while the Public Works Department completed construction on several major projects including a new recreation and community center in the Montopolis neighborhood.
Austin Police Department worked with the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network to address gun crime, coordinated training for community therapists to provide free counseling sessions to victims/survivors of crime, and contributed to the Reimagining Public Safety initiative.
In partnership with Public Works, the Austin Fire Department and Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services opened a joint Fire/EMS Station in Del Valle/Moore’s Crossing, the first of five stations to be built in the coming years to provide improved response times in underserved neighborhoods.
Government that Works for All
With the goal of addressing all aspects of municipal operations, the Financial Services Department (FSD) successfully presented a carefully crafted balanced budget, under a 3.5 percent revenue cap, avoided employee layoffs or furloughs, all while keeping reserves at 12 percent.
Communications and Technology Management and the Human Resources Departments helped rapidly mobilize city employees to shift from in-office work environments to virtual work environments. Within two months of the COVID-19 Stay Home-Work Safe Orders being issued more than 51 percent of the city’s workforce was equipped and able to telework with minimal service disruption to city operations.
This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch