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Armbrister introduces

Wednesday, April 18, 2001 by

New Bradleyville bill

SB 1812 offers pared down version of previous bill

State Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) introduced a new bill Tuesday to create a taxing district on Gary Bradley’s Spillar Ranch property in Hays County. Senate Bill 1812 is much less ambitious than its predecessor, House Bill 3644, filed by Rep. Rick Green (R-Hays County). The earlier bill would have allowed Bradley to levy a two-cent sales tax, issue bonds, and exercise eminent domain, even within the boundaries of the City of Austin. (See In Fact Daily, March 29, 2001).

The latest version states, “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the district shall not exercise the power of eminent domain for any purpose.” The City of Austin and surrounding landowners were particularly threatened by the idea of a new entity with eminent domain, by which a governmental entity can simply condemn the property of its neighbors and then pay them for it—and perhaps not as much as they might have gotten on the open market.

Perhaps the most innovative section of SB1812 is the final one, which says, “This act takes effect on the date on which the City of Austin consents to the creation of the district if that date: 1) occurs before the 91st day after the last date of the legislative session and this act receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, . . . or 2) occurs on or after the 91st day of the last day of the legislative session. If the city consents to the creation of the district after the 91st day after the session ends, apparently only a majority of the Legislature must approve it.

As promised by Green last week, the new measure would give 100 per cent of its sales tax proceeds to “a non-profit corporation created to aid and assist education in the area of the school district . . .” However, the bill provides that the tax revenues can also be pledged for payment of bonds, notes or other obligations issued by the district.”

In a letter to the Mayor and City Council, Armbrister chides the city for its conservation efforts in Hays County. “Austin’s support and approval of this proposal and the accompanying legislation will also help compensate (the Hays Consolidated Independent School District )and the residents of Hays County for the lost tax revenue they suffered when the City of Austin acquired substantial property within Hays County for the benefit of environmental protection, thus removing it from the tax rolls. I believe this legislation would help alleviate future controversy over additional land acquisitions within Hays County for the purposes of environmental protection,” he wrote.

Armbrister also implies that it was the City Council’s fault that negotiations over Green’s legislation were unsuccessful. “I want to applaud all of the individuals who participated in the (April 2 stakeholders) meeting. Unfortunately, some of the decision makers, whose input was critical for a successful resolution, did not attend.” He goes on to say that the city of Austin placed Bradley and the Destination Resort Hotel executives “in a very difficult position, given that the Hays County Commissioners Court created a similar district for the benefit of a hotel/resort/golf course in Dripping Springs and allowed the landowners to receive 100 per cent of the proceeds for the benefit of their project.”

After hearing about the new proposal, Bill Bunch, executive director of Save Our Springs Alliance, said, “The only reason they’re pushing it is to finance their infrastructure. They can’t defend the condemnation power, so they’re willing to let it go. They desperately want financing for the infrastructure and the revenue stream to pay for that. If it’s creating a special district that can issue tax exempt bonds, then the financing for the infrastructure would be a fraction of what it would otherwise be.”

After reviewing Bradley’s initial legislation, Mayor Kirk Watson wrote that he wanted to make sure that eight issues would be addressed. One of those was to “avoid giving any single economic development an unreasonable competitive advantage.” Additionally, the Mayor wanted to “preserve the nature, character and environment of Hays County by providing funding directly to the county and the City of Austin for environmental preservation,” including park land. Watson also said the district’s governing body should be elected by voters from existing jurisdictions, as opposed to being appointed. Armbrister’s legislation does not meet that objection.

Finally, Watson said he wanted to preclude the possibility of future amendments subverting any legislation approved this year. Armbrister’s bill does not address that issue.

“There’s so much bad faith, that the city shouldn’t even play this game any more, this session,” Bunch concluded. Besides, during the next two years, the landowners will only have funds to build their infrastructure. There will be no hotel tax, and therefore no funding for the schools, he said. The district is “another form of corporate welfare.”

Resource commission

Wants more money

Group will decide on goals of public hearing next month

The chairman of the Resource Management Commission is trying to boost his commission’s budget, which totaled $4,304 for the 1999-2000 fiscal year. That money went to cover personnel costs along with equipment and office supplies. Chairman Michael Osborne says the group could use a slight budget increase to help stage a public hearing. “We had put in our annual report . . . that it would be a good idea to have a budget to conduct an effective meeting before the public and give the public an opportunity to come before us,” Osborne said during the Commission’s meeting Tuesday night.

Commissioner Michelle LaVigne suggested a hearing date sometime this summer, possibly July, since the Texas Legislature will have wrapped up its work on the water-related SB 2 and several other important bills that would affect the commission’s work. At the urging of Commissioner Michael Kuhn, other members of the group will get together to discuss exactly which issue should be the subject of the proposed public hearing and what it should achieve. They’ll present their ideas at the commission meeting in May. In the meantime, Osborne hopes to visit with officials at Austin Energy regarding the commission’s budget request, which he describes as “minimal.”

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

Watson going to Buda . . . Mayor Kirk Watson’ s office confirmed Tuesday that he does intend to go to a public hearing in Buda this evening. Mayor Billy Gray invited the City Council to hear Buda residents’ thoughts on why the city should give up land in its ETJ. Austin voted to give the land to Buda, but wanted assurances that the property would actually be annexed by the smaller city . . . Eastside Planning . . . The East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team will meet tonight from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Martin Jr. High School library. Developer Greg Pitzer has been invited to discuss alternatives to the plan for a substandard lot on Waller Street. The Board of Adjustment last week rejected Pitzer’s request for variances after hearing complaints from neighborhood residents. (In Fact Daily, April 11, 2001) . . . SMART Housing case postponed . . . The Planning Commission last night granted a two-week postponement to SCAN and Kensington Park Neighborhood Association members who oppose a townhome project adjacent to their small single-family neighborhood . . . Short agenda. . . The City Council has no hearings scheduled for Thursday evening, so zoning cases at 4 p.m., and music at 5:30 p.m. should mean another early adjournment.

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