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Police vote to accept

Thursday, March 8, 2001 by

New contract with city

City Council to vote on contract tonight

Members of the Austin Police Association (APA) gave thumbs up to a new contract with the city last night, with 60 percent of those voting in favor of the agreement. Detective Mike Sheffield, president of the APA, told In Fact Daily the vote was 624 in favor and 414 against accepting the contract negotiated by APA and city management. The matter is now in the hands of the City Council, which is scheduled to vote on the item tonight.

Ninety-two percent of the association’s 1,121 members turned in ballots, Sheffield said. Another 20 officers have chosen not to join the APA, and thus were not eligible to vote.

Sheffield said he thought that more officers would have voted for the contract if it had addressed health insurance. Officers were more concerned about what was not in the contract than what was, he said. Specifically, Sheffield said, “There was visible unhappiness about the failure to deal with health care.” A typical officer pays about $400 a month for health coverage for himself and his family with Amil and Aetna. A third plan, ERISA, costs slightly less, he said.

Sheffield said the rates for police officers are the same as paid by other city employees. But city management refused to negotiate separately with the police association on the insurance issue, he said.

“It’s a problem for the city at large. Officers wanted to put some control on the spiraling costs.” Sheffield pointed out that the amount an employee must pay to see doctors, called the co-pay, has doubled and the costs on many prescriptions have also increased. For retired officers who live outside the city’s service area, prices are even higher, Sheffield said. For example, a retired officer and his spouse pay $800-$900 a month if they live in Lampasas, he said.

If the contract is approved by the City Council, the department will spend $32 million for pay increases over the next three years. Other incentives include stipends for bilingual officers and college degrees, shift differential for working evening shifts and additional pay for field-training officers. Education will be considered as "points" in the promotion of police officers.

Sheffield has already expressed concern that Council Member Beverly Griffith would oppose police budget increases. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 5, 2001) If she does, it may be with ammunition she picked up from city Budget Officer Charles Curry. She asked Curry to explain how the city would fund the proposed pay increases and other items in the new contract. Curry, responding to Griffith’s questions, wrote the following: "You have asked what growth in the tax value would be required if that were the sole revenue source used to fund the proposed Police contract. Under the circumstances you have described, a $2.5 billion increase in tax value in 2001-2002 would produce the required $7,584,318 and a $2.5 billion increase in tax value in 2002-2003 would produce the required $7,556,149."

Griffith asked Curry to project how much the city’s sales tax revenue would have to increase to completely fund the approximately $7.5 million increase for the police. Curry’s memo said a 5.8 percent increase over the previously projected tax revenue for this year and a 5.4 percent increase for the following year would produce the required amount. Curry also responded to a question about an increase in the property tax rate if it were the sole source of revenue for the proposed contract. If the property tax were the only source of new funds, Curry said, the city would need to increase taxes by 1.86 cents in 2001-2002 and an increase of 1.84 cents in 2002-2003, assuming no change in the total assessed value.

Environmental Board wants

Staff to tighten erosion controls

Heitz to address erosion problems today

The Environmental Board voted last night to prod city staff to move forward in establishing stricter erosion and sedimentation controls for developers.

Vice Chair Tim Jones put forth a motion timed to coincide with an item on today’s City Council agenda relating to erosion control. The Council is scheduled for a briefing on enhancing the inspection program for erosion control at development sites. Jones motion, which passed unanimously, calls for revising environmental criteria to “address enhanced compliance standards for temporary erosion and sedimentation controls.”

A key provision of the motion seeks “a fiscal surety posting for temporary erosion controls and revegetation of disturbed areas.” If a developer fails to comply with the environmental code in a timely manner, the city will be able to issue a stop work order and hire contractors to mitigate the infractions caused by the errant developer. The city will be able to pay the contractors out of the surety bond provided by the developer, and the developer will not be able to resume the project until a new bond for the original amount is posted.

“The motion is more conceptual to staff so we can get a handle” on the situation, Jones said, noting refinements will be needed but stressing the importance of getting the process underway. He said most erosion occurs during construction and that there is a real need to tighten up erosion control during the development process.

Board Member Phil Moncada, who worked on the motion with Jones, said he really wanted to get this process started. “We’ve been talking about this for over ten years.” He said he would like to see the city actually have contractors lined up like wreckers on rotation, ready to deal with erosion control problems as they come up.

Jones said he wanted to introduce this recommendation in addition to the briefing Mike Hietz, director of the Watershed Protection Department, is scheduled to give City Council today. “It may be redundant,” he said, noting that he had given his recommendation to Heitz and it may be included in the briefing to the Council.

“I think this is going to be a controversial move and something developers will resist” Jones said, but it’s important “to put it on the table.”

Board Member Joyce Conner agreed that there was an ongoing problem. “I’d like to go ahead and send a message that something needs to be changed,” she said.

Noting the unusual absence of staff at the meeting, Board Member Buzz Avery said, “I’ll support it but I wish we had more input from staff.”

Staff liaison to the board Roderick Burns said Pat Murphy of the Watershed Protection Department, who usually attends the meetings, he has been out sick all week. Murphy, he said, had suggested the Board hold off on presenting the recommendation to the Council until after tomorrow’s briefing.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said he understood Murphy’s request, but as Conner said, it’s important to get the process moving. He noted that nothing was set in stone and many changes were expected before a final document would be approved.

Jones said, “We need a hammer and this is our hammer.”

Buzz Avery to retire; Stratus subcommittee on hold

When Environmental Board chair Lee Leffingwell asked Board Member Buzz Avery about the status of the Stratus subcommittee, Avery said, “We stopped meeting a month ago…We still exist but we’re not having active meetings.” He said there was nothing to discuss at this point. Like the Planing Commission subcommittee, the Environmental Board subcommittee is on hold and ready for guidance to move forward. Avery, chair of the subcommittee, then announced the need to select a new chair because the next Environmental Board meeting would be his last. He said a month from now he will be living outside of the city limits. “I won’t try to circumvent the rules,” he quipped, noting city regulations require board and commission members to reside inside the city limits.

After many years of service Avery said he would miss the board. Leffingwell said, “Your expertise and guidance will be missed….I’m sorry to see you go.”

Planning Commission approves

Change for apartment complex

Street connectivity still an issue for neighbors

A proposal to allow development of an apartment complex on a 4.8-acre tract of land located at 7000 U.S. 290 East won approval from the Planning Commission Tuesday night after members decided how the complex would be connected to the surrounding neighborhood. The lot, which is currently vacant, touches Coronado Hills Drive. A neighborhood representative told the commission neighbors do not want the street connecting to U.S. Highway 290 because it would increase traffic in the area. The developer agreed, saying that access to the apartment complex would be from U.S. 290 and offered to make Coronado Hills Drive into a cul-de-sac.

Commissioners approved the zoning change from SF-3 to MF-3 by a vote of 8-1, with Commissioner Robin Cravey opposed. Cravey said he would prefer the street to run past the complex and connect to the highway. When a subdivision plat is submitted for the site, commissioners will again have the opportunity to vote on whether Coronado Hills Drive should become a through street.

The Planning Commission voted months ago to recommend changes to subdivision rules that would eliminate most cul-de-sacs and reduce new residential subdivision block lengths to an average of 600 feet. City staff has generally not supported making those rules mandatory and the item has been postponed over and over again from the City Council agenda.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

SXSW 200th performer at ABIA . . .The airport’s 200th performer and more than two dozen gigs are scheduled in March at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA). Being an officially sanctioned SXSW showcase added six performances to the airport’s live music program. More than just fun, music means business at the airport. Customers pack into the nearby Highland Lakes Bar during performances, increasing sales dramatically, according to Terry Mahlum whose company operates the bar. There are four live performances every week. For more information, visit www.abia.org and click on Music/Art/Tours icon . . . Police honorees. . . Council Member Danny Thomas will present awards to five members of the Austin Police Department and three Texas Rangers at 5:30 p.m. today at the LCRA/City Council chamber. The awards are for exceptional work and commitment to justice shown by the members of the Nancy DePriest Homicide Review Team . . . Spring break. . . Neither the Planning Commission nor the City Council will meet next week. Members of the commission's subcommittee on the Bennett tract will have several meerings, however.

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