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Austin agrees to release of

Friday, August 3, 2001 by

Buda ETJ, with conditions

The beginning of a beautiful friendship?

The long-running saga of Austin’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) in Hays County moved one step closer to a resolution on Thursday as the Austin City Council unanimously approved a measure that will begin the process of releasing control of the land to the City of Buda. The decision thrilled members of Buda’s City Council, but aggravated environmentalists who don’t trust the tiny town to protect the water quality of Barton Springs.

Part of the land transfer is effective immediately. About 234 acres in the ETJ east of I-35, which is not in the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, is being released as part of the Council’s action (see In Fact Daily, Aug. 2nd, 2001). But the transfer of the rest of the 5,464 acres is subject to several conditions. Buda will have to pass its own version of Austin’s water quality ordinance to receive another 348 acres within the recharge zone. The Buda City Council passed a version of the ordinance in February of this year with the stipulation that it would take effect only after the release of the ETJ by Austin. But that measure didn’t satisfy Austin’s negotiating team. Instead, Buda will need to fully adopt the ordinance before the ETJ will be released. That could happen as soon as August 7th.

Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance opposed the transfer. “I appreciate that this proposal is much better than the earlier one,” Bunch said. “But there’s still some very serious concerns with it.” He told Council Members he believed that Buda, even if well intentioned, lacked the expertise to enforce the water quality rules. “Buda has a terrible track record managing its wastewater treatment facility and that doesn’t bode well for its ability to protect the aquifer from urban development, which is a much more difficult task.”

Bunch also questioned the authority of the Council to influence development on the land in the ETJ after it’s turned over to Buda’s control. “I question the legality to regulate ETJ after it’s released. If it’s released to them, they can amend their ordinances and do whatever they want with it.” Bunch theorized that a future Buda City Council could weaken the water-quality ordinance to allow for more development.

Former Austin City Attorney Andy Martin, who helped negotiate the proposed transfer, offered a different opinion. “If for some reason a future Buda City Council amended that ordinance in a way that was less protective, then this ordinance would not authorize the release of the ETJ.”

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and members of the Buda City Council both predicted that relaxed water-quality rules would not be a problem the two cities would face. “I trust my colleagues on the Buda City Council. They have already demonstrated their willingness to do regional planning,” Watson said. “In addition, if at some point it is ever determined that the regional planning is not working to protect the environment, we can change that. And we cannot release certain parts of the ETJ.”

Buda City Council Member Byron Warren was even more blunt. “If you don’t think we’re doing a good job, you can take it back,” he said. “I don’t think the City Council will have that opportunity, to be point blank with you.”

Buda has requested the release of the ETJ for several years. The city’s new Mayor, Billy Gray, has raised the issue’s profile in the past several months. He held a Buda “town meeting” in April to discuss the matter—at which Mayor Watson faced heavy criticism from some Hays County residents. But before Thursday’s vote, both Buda and Austin Council Members went out of their way to praise each other’s efforts and the efforts of the city staff involved in the negotiations. “Our working relationship with Austin has been very co-operative,” Warren said. “It’s been very important for Buda and the citizens of Buda that we control our own destiny, and that we do it properly with (respect to our) neighbors.”

While the discussion from Buda’s representatives has focused on that town’s ability to control its own growth, Austin’s representatives have focused on doing the right thing for Buda—while still protecting water quality. “We certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if it was in the other direction, and some other city was telling us what to do,” Council Member Beverly Griffth said. Mayor Watson agreed, saying, “We need to do the right thing as the City of Austin, and dealing with our neighbor in this way is the right thing.”

Buda Council Member Warren was pleased at the result, as well as the process used to achieve it. “I felt kind of like Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart at the end of ‘Casablanca,’” Warren said of Buda’s improving relationship with Austin. “They’re walking off into the fog saying ‘this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’”.

Garza's budget plan lean,

But no layoffs projected

Employees should see scheduled pay raises, bonuses

The Mayor and City Manager began Thursday’s City Council meeting by painting the city’s proposed $1.9 billion, 2002 budget in rosy hues, despite the blanket forecast for a decrease in projected tax revenues amidst increasing expenditures.

City Manager Jesus Garza and John Stephens, director of Financial and Administrative Services, presented the proposed operating budget to the Council Thursday morning. Despite having had to hone the budget into its leanest form in recent years, Garza pointed out some bright points that actually had Mayor Kirk Watson speaking of it in glowing terms.

The Council voted 6-0, with Council Member Danny Thomas absent, to set a public hearing on the proposed budget for August 30. Included in that vote was an agreement to hold other public meetings throughout August on various aspects of the budget, and to schedule a vote for September 10 on lowering the property tax rate to about 46 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Referring to $19.3 million from this year’s budget that will be carried over to next year’s, the mayor lauded Garza and city staff for the fiscal wizardry that made it possible. He said the city manager and staff “provided us with a much better start to fiscal year 2002 than we might have anticipated.” Watson said staff worked hard to find a way to offset anticipated revenue shortfalls and he appreciated the effort. “Folks, that’s a significant number,” he added.

By considering the budget in the context of a two-year time frame, staff is “putting us in a situation where we can anticipate better where the budget will go,” Watson said.

Statistics show that local layoffs may reach 20,000 this year, he noted, but “even in difficult economic times, all city facilities remain open.” And the proposed budget provides for new facilities to open, he said, noting that the city would not be laying off any employees.

Garza emphasized that not only would there be no layoffs of city employees, but that scheduled pay raises and bonus incentives of 3.5 to 5 percent would still be paid.

Watson also touted the dramatic drop in the city’s crime rate, which “has now reached a 21-year low.” The proposed budget calls for increased funding for police in an effort to eventually have Austin rated among the top five safest cities in the country in terms of violent crime.

Lower tax rate proposal

The mayor said the city has been able to initiate numerous positive changes and still propose a lower property tax rate. Already, he said the rate of 46.63 cents per $100 is the lowest among major cities in the state, compared to 87.50 cents per $100 in Fort Worth, 66.75 cents in Dallas and 65.50 cents in Houston.

The proposed budget calls for a decrease in the property tax rate to 45.97 cents per $100.

He said all this is possible because planning by city staff has been greater in the last four years than at any time during the last twenty.

Stephens led the Council through a slide presentation of pie charts to illustrate the revenues and expenditures of the proposed budget. “Property tax is now our most significant source of funding,” he said, amounting to $46.9 million in revenue, which translates to 30.7 percent of the General Fund revenue. That beats out sales tax revenue, which makes up 27.8 percent of the income for the General Fund.

Expenses related to the General Fund account for 24 percent of the outflow of all operating funds for the city. Property taxes account for 12 percent of the revenue in the proposed $1.9 billion budget, with sales and other taxes making up another 7 percent.

Garza said he put the proposed budget together with a two-year time frame in mind because of uncertainty in the economy and because of numerous funding commitments the city has made that will play out over the next two years. “Even in just the past 30 days or so, the uncertainty of our economy has made its mark on our budget planning. Originally, we budgeted for a 7.9 percent increase in sales tax revenue over the last year. This spring we revised that estimate down to 4.5 percent, with an expected $5.5 million in growth,” he said in a prepared statement to the Mayor and Council.

“We need to further revise this estimate down to 2.4 percent, a growth of only $2.9 million,” he told the Council. “We don’t have a crystal ball for forecasting sales tax revenue.”

Garza said he estimates that next year’s growth in sales tax revenues will be only 3.4 percent, rather than the previously estimated 5.4 percent. “Overall we expect the General Fund revenue for the coming fiscal year to grow approximately 2.7 percent, equating to about $11.4 million. However, expenditures will grow at more than double that rate—approximately 7 percent, or $31 million,” he reported.

The proposed budget also includes funding for new fire and EMS stations, as well as funding for libraries, parks and sports facilities..

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Vive le Lance . . . Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong returns to Austin this weekend for a party in his honor. The city is co-sponsoring a celebration at Auditorium Shores on Saturday, August 4th. Instead of having a parade, several bands will perform.Gates open at 5:30pm and events should begin at 6:15pm. Armstrong is expected to address the crowd at 9:15pm followed by a fireworks display. There will be some street closures because of the event. Beginning at 3:00 pm Riverside Drive will be closed from South First to Lamar. Cesar Chavez will be closed from San Antonio to Lamar from 9:00pm-10:00pm . . . Getting away from it all . . . Mayor Kirk Watson spent part of July on vacation in Italy, but he wasn't able to completely leave Austin behind. He encountered a group from Austin at a restaurant in Venice, and at least one member recognized him—as “the weatherman”—but another knew him as the mayor of their hometown . . . Top planner on vacation . . . Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, is off to England this week with her young daughter, a precocious violinist, and a group of other child musicians. It was a good week for Glasco to take off, since all the controversial zoning cases for yesterday were postponed. The zoning portion of the City Council meeting took less than 10 minutes, as compared to the several-hour hearings that often come about as a result of zoning requests . . . Tale of Two Kirks . . . There are no announced Democratic candidates for Texas Attorney General, but that didn’t stop local political consultant Jeff Montgomery of Montgomery and Associates from conducting a poll on five potential candidates. The firm included Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk on its list of possibilities, along with two state representatives and one state senator. The poll’s results showed that on the Democratic side, the most popular choice was still “undecided.” The pollsters also indicated that “name ID was extremely low across the board.” Although political observers have frequently mentioned him as a possible candidate in 2002, Watson has consistently deflected speculation about any run for statewide office. This week’s rumors have Watson announcing for AG next week or after the budget is finished..

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