An Open Letter to Austin Firefighters

By Matt Mackowiak & Cleo Petricek, Save Austin Now co-founders

For the past two weeks, Austin Fire Association leadership has been intensely waging a war against Prop A.

We are writing you today to make sure you understand a few key things:

Austin first responders are stronger when they are unified — Opponents of public safety at City Hall always try to undermine you, reduce your funding and negotiate one-sided contracts, and place new burdens and pressures on you. And the same approach happens with Police and EMS. You all work together professionally. You should all work together politically. Police has never opposed an important political measure that Fire needed. It could have been argued that your May proposition would have budgetary consequences. APA and Save Austin Now remained neutral, just as we promised we would. Our word meant something.

The police staffing crisis is having profound impacts on public safety and on the Fire Department — Police and fire work together every hour of every day and that will never change. We know that homeless fires doubled last year, putting firefighters at risk and risking the lives of the homeless who were living in these unregulated encampments. Indeed, homeless individuals tragically and needlessly lost their lives in homeless fires over the past two years. Increasing 911 response times negatively impact the ability of Fire to do their jobs, as you are waiting for police to arrive.

AFA leadership has been professionally and politically aligned with Democratic Socialists of Austin (DSA) and that fact can no longer be ignored — We have chosen not to beat this drum for months, but facts must be shared and aired as this partnership (at least partially) explains AFA leadership’s current motivations. The ‘No on Prop B’ effort was housed in AFA’s building, with Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar showing up to support that ‘No on Prop B’ campaign, where Collective Campaigns was housed until two months ago. Collective Campaigns is the field effort arm of DSA, which is Casar’s political army. Equity PAC, which is leading the effort to defeat Prop A, listed AFA’s building as its office address on its campaign filing forms. To our knowledge, that has not been updated despite Bob Nicks pledging it would be done weeks or even months ago. This kind of filing change would take less than five minutes.

Yes, Austin can afford Prop A — Our annual city budget is $4.5B. The low-end cost estimate is $54M from the city. Ignore the high-end estimate, which includes voter-approved items like substations and unnecessary items like new training centers, intentionally conflating capital expenses with the police budget. If you accept the low-end estimate, Prop A represents 1.4% of the budget that would need to be committed. The general revenue fund (discretionary budget) is $1B a year. Prop A represents a 5% budget commitment. The city’s cost estimate was released two hours before the ballot language was passed (which we got thrown out after winning 8–0 at the State Supreme Court). We did not have time to fight the cost estimate in court. Thankfully you have also been presented a cost estimate from a respected senior firefighter that shows the projected cost being lower than the city’s false estimate. We generally agree with it. Prop A will not be fully implemented in 2021 or even in 2022, as it will be impossible to hire the needed 300–350 officers that quickly. We roughly estimate the cost to be between $30-$35M annually in the first 1–2 years. In 2022, rising valuations will bring AT LEAST $40 million more in property taxes into city coffers than last year. The city had no problem largely wasting $179M on failed homeless spending the past three years and they don’t claim to need to cut anything after proposing a $515M plan on homelessness the next three years. These threatened ‘cuts’ are a scare tactic.

Yes, Save Austin Now will commit to fighting a similar ballot measure if your staffing situation is similarly affected like police has been — But we cannot in good conscience do this if AFA opposes Prop A (after refusing to support Prop B). Save Austin Now supports all first responders. It is time City Hall does as well. We know you need a new fire truck. It is absurd you have been unable to secure the $1M needed for this crucial project up to this point. We will be glad to help you going forward. All we ask is that you do not oppose Prop A.

AFA leadership pledged on several occasions to stay out of Prop A — They are violating this pledge and they know it. If they deny they said this, we will irrefutably prove them wrong.

We look forward to continuing to work with you in the future to make sure Austin is safe for every family that resides here.

-Matt & Cleo, Save Austin Now