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Utility to reconsider method

Monday, January 8, 2001 by

For figuring wastewater bills

New method could lead to lower charges

Jim Kunkel's water bill dropped when his Spicewood/Balcones neighborhood was annexed into the city, but not as much as those of his neighbors to the south.

Kunkel took his concerns to the Water & Wastewater Commission last month and was perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back. Last week, department Director Chris Lippe reviewed the city's wastewater averaging process and determined that it may be time for a new method of rate calculation.

For Kunkel, changes could mean saving almost $400 per year on his water bill . Prior to annexation, Kunkel paid $70 per month for wastewater services to a private water company. That dropped to $50 with the city, but Kunkel estimates it should have been closer to $20 a month.

His situation is due to Austin's current method of calculating wastewater rates. While some cities base their wastewater charges on year-round average water usage, Austin chooses to use a three-month averaging method. The city calculates a rate based on an average of water usage during December, January and February when consumption is lowest. That kicks out figures from months when water consumption—but not wastewater—is high because of such activities as watering lawns and filling swimming pools.

But Austin is now big enough that not all of the city's wastewater averaging can take place between December and February, Lippe told the commissioners. The city is divided into a grid of 20 areas and three of those areas will start their bill cycles before Dec. 1. More than two-thirds now end the cycle for their wastewater average between March 1 and April 1 he said. Kunkel estimates that placement of his cycle makes a difference of almost $30 per month in his bills because of the need to water his lawn in early spring.

The wide range in averages has pushed the department towards a review of the averaging process, Lippe told the commissioners. Potential options include a variation of the current three-month billing cycle schedule—with the highest consumption month dropped from the calculation. The city is also considering a four-month wastewater average with the high consumption month dropped.

Long term, the best option will probably be an automated water meter reading system that could allow for additional readings during the wastewater average period, Lippe said.

“I would hope they decide” to fix this on a long-term basis so that we don't have to go through this every year,” Kunkel said. “It needs to be reasonable for all citizens.”

The water utility will complete an analysis of wastewater average options and develop, if needed, any recommendations for Council action, Lippe said. Any recommendation for changes to standard wastewater average calculations will be brought back to the Water/Wastewater Commission and Austin City Council in two to three months. Customers would be billed for wastewater based on their new average beginning with the April billing cycle.

“You could see a revision in March,” Lippe said. “That's when we start the bills for the new year.”

Stratus announces sale of Lantana

Section and new lending arrangement

Finvest Ltd. to develop apartment complex on site

Stratus Properties has announced the sale of a 36-acre section of its Lantana project for $5 million. Stratus’ attorney, Richard Suttle, said the portion sold is “just a little piece” of Lantana. He identified the buyer of the section, which is zoned for multi-family housing, as Finvest, Ltd., a part of Finger Development of Houston. The acreage sold was not a part of Stratus’ proposed development agreement with the city, Suttle said, and Finvest already has a permit to build an apartment complex on the property.

Stratus used proceeds from the sale to eliminate a debt to Comerica-Bank Texas, according to a company press release. Stratus has also established a $20 million line of credit with Comerica and a $10 million “term loan commitment specifically designated for potential future redemption obligations . . . (to) Olympus Real Estate, an affiliate of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, Inc.,” says the press release. The company’s market capitalization was pegged at $62.6 million in Sunday’s American-Statesman. In addition to the $30 million, Comerica may be willing to provide an additional $30 million for construction loans on “a project specific basis,” the company reported. American Asset Management has also made a $5 million unsecured loan to Stratus, the company said.

William H. Armstrong, chief executive officer of Stratus, said, “We are very pleased with the payoff of our prior debt, which occurred much quicker than we had anticipated. With the financial flexibility provided by our strong cash position and our new credit facilities, we look forward to the exciting business opportunities available in the new year.” Although the proposed agreement between Stratus and the city appeared near death last month, a subcommittee of the Environmental Board is still considering recommendations.

Immigrant Commission to study

Idea of International festival for city

Commission to stress awareness of ethnic communities

Last year, the city of Austin had its Community Unity Day. Next year, we may see an International Festival established to raise awareness of Austin's various ethnic communities.

The two-year-old Austin Commission on Immigrant Affairs has tackled thornier issues: qualifications for the Medical Assistance Program; immigrant policies for the Austin Police Department; and non-Spanish translation services for the area's clinics and hospitals. But at a meeting last Saturday, commissioners chose awareness and visibility of Austin's immigrant communities to be the top priority this year.

Commissioners intend to conduct a feasibility study of a full-scale International Festival, possibly modeling it after Houston's International Festival. The goal would be to link existing ethnic communities, raise awareness of their issues and build cohesiveness among the various groups. The commission intends to take its completed proposal to the Austin City Council for sponsorship within a few months.

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sand Beach Reserve at School Land Board . . . The state’s School Land Board meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Stephen F. Austin Building to consider whether the City of Austin may settle a boundary dispute with Lumberman’s Investment Corp., allowing the company to build a 200-foot condominium project on property arguably designated as parkland. Park advocate Mary Arnold has sent an email urging those concerned to contact the three board members, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, Louis Renaud and Bill Warnick, who represent the Governor and the Attorney General . . . Lazarus House up again. . . On Tuesday, the Planning Commission is scheduled to hear a request by the city of Austin to rezone the property at 1406 Waller, home of the Lazarus House, a transitional housing facility that has raised neighborhood ire and is operating in apparent violation of zoning regulations.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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