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Council finishes budget

Wednesday, September 12, 2001 by

Business in spite of crisis

Slusher, Griffith dissent on final vote

The Austin City Council forged ahead with regular business yesterday as the world’s attention focused on the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The city did activate the Emergency Operations Center as a precaution, although no threats were directed at Austin. Security at city facilities was increased, and steps were taken to protect the city’s critical facilities such as power plants, water pumping stations, and Brackenridge Hospital from attack. Cases set for a hearing in the Austin Municipal Court system were postponed.

The greatest impact in Central Texas was felt at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which was closed—along with every other airport in the nation—after two hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York and another struck the Pentagon. Capital Metro offered bus service for stranded passengers, and the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau helped publicize local hotels offering special accommodations or services for those affected by the national air traffic stoppage.

The airport is expected to resume flights at 11:00 am today, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Whenever flights do resume, travelers can expect extra security precautions. “Travel will be different,” ABIA spokesperson Jackie Mayo said. She encouraged passengers to contact their airlines, and to arrive at least two hours before the scheduled departure time once airport operations resume.

The city’s emergency operations center was staffed overnight, and city emergency officials will re-evaluate the situation this morning to determine how much longer to remain in operation. “You don’t want to let your guard down and have something else sneak in,” said Austin Emergency Management Director Steve Collier.

In addition to dozens of prayer vigils and long lines at the Blood and Tissue Center on North Lamar, some Austin residents will actually be traveling to New York to assist. The “Texas Task Force 1” includes rescue experts, hazardous material specialists and medical personnel to help locate survivors. Five Austin firefighters and one Austin EMS crewmember are on the task force, which could remain in New York for up to ten days.

The City Council went ahead with its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday morning to finalize the budget for arts programs for the upcoming fiscal year. Most of the budget had been finalized during a brief meeting on Monday, but the Council still had to decide how to allocate $165,000 found for arts programs by the City Manager’s office late last week. The Council managed to spend all of that money, plus a little extra. It allocated $180,000 for three separate programs, dipping into a reserve fund for the remaining $15,000. One-third of the money will be used for music production. That $60,000 will help the Austin Music Network produce two programs. One will be devoted to Latino music, the other to coverage of South by Southwest. Another $60,000 will help fund an African-American Technical Arts Center championed by Council Member Danny Thomas. The final $60,000 will help pay for the design of a mural along South Lamar. The final revision passed by a vote of 4-2. Council Members Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith voted against the additional proposals on the grounds that they had not gone through the normal funding process. Mayor Kirk Watson was called away for a briefing on the day’s developments and was off the dais for the final vote.

'Clean Campaign' group seems

To have enough signatures

Council could reject petitions because of defect

City Clerk Shirley Brown reported late Monday that her office had verified that Clean Campaigns for Austin had provided enough signatures to place its proposal for campaign financing on a city ballot. Brown said that she initially believed the group would need more than 20,000 signatures, based on old voter registration numbers.

However, she said, voter rolls had recently been purged, deleting a number of names that had previously been in the “suspended” category, so the new number of qualified voters fell to 359,220. Five percent of the smaller number is 17,961, she said. Based on a scientific sampling procedure, Brown said, the committee provided about 20,169 qualified signatures. The group gathered more than 28,000, she noted, because “some people will sign a petition even if they are not registered to vote.”

The clerk’s office managed to do a scientific sample of the signatures and verify their status in a little less than three weeks. Fred Lewis, spokesperson for the Clean Campaigns group, commended Brown for her diligence. “I am very appreciative of the City Clerk’s attitude. She kept us informed all along the way. She was very easy to talk to and work with . . . She couldn’t have been more responsive.”

However, Lewis said he could not be absolutely sure the City Council would accept the clerk’s findings, and thus had not made an announcement about the petition drive’s success. Similar petition drives have met with resistance from the Council in past years . Lewis noted that those problems occurred under “a different Mayor, a different Council and a different clerk. (But) the city has a long history of ending up in court—and losing.”

As it turns out, Lewis has reason to worry. The petitions do not contain the county of residence of each signer, which they are required to do when signatures are gathered from more than one county, according to a lawyer familiar with such petitions. So, the city may have a choice between accepting the petitions with their defects or seeking a legal ruling from either the Secretary of State or a judge.

If the petitions are ultimately accepted as valid, the group’s proposal will go to the voters as part of a city charter amendment election in May of 2002. The Council has also appointed a Charter Revision Commission to look at changes that would be presented to voters at the same time. Council Member Danny Thomas has asked the City Manager’s office to study the legal and fiscal implications of the Clean Campaigns proposal and report back to the Council next month.

CAMPO rejects two area

Projects as costs escalate

Prices double on Technicenter, Greenlawn

CAMPO leaders have for now decided to pass on improvements to Technicenter Drive and Greenlawn Boulevard after state estimates arrived that doubled the cost of the two road projects.

CAMPO and the Capital Area Transportation Coalition proposed $105.6 million in road projects to the Texas Department of Transportation last February. The staff of TxDOT has recommended funding roughly a quarter of that amount, providing $15.6 million for the construction of frontage roads on US 290 West and main lanes and frontage roads on US 183 from north of Loyola to north of FM 969. The amount would be matched by $6.8 million from the City of Austin and $4.7 million from Surface Transportation Program (STP) 4C funds. TxDOT is expected to make a final decision on priority projects on Sept. 27.

That was good news for local leaders. It left $41.3 million in funds on the table that CAMPO, Travis County and the cities of Round Rock and Austin had offered the Texas Transportation Commission. CAMPO had intended to underwrite two additional projects with local fund contributions, but that changed last week. The two projects previously estimated at $21.8 million became $42 million under new figures provided by TxDOT’s Austin office. Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis questioned why Technicenter Drive—US 183 South from south of FM 969 to north of Boggy Creek—was suddenly out of reach. The project is intended to improve access around Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Davis pointed out that the numbers on the project had fluctuated over the months.

“There doesn’t seem to be any consistency on capturing a number,” said Davis, calling Technicenter Drive a critical project. “How can we land on a number and move forward?”

CAMPO estimated it could pay for the $11.8 million Technicenter Drive by splitting the cost between the city ($6.8 million ) and STP 4C funds ($5 million). The total cost of the project is estimated at $22 million. The second project, improvements to Interstate 35 at Greenlawn Boulevard, was to be funded by a split between the City of Round Rock and STP 4C funds, with each paying $5 million. TxDOT now estimates the cost of the project to be somewhere between $14 million and $20 million.

A memo outlined the reasons why the Technicenter Drive estimate jumped so high: increases in excavation costs and additional pipe and box culverts, as well as a year of inflation. Michael Aulick, CAMPO executive director. said the projects no longer made economic sense—they did not leverage funds.

Even as CAMPO passed on those projects, the new cycle of road project approvals is starting. The hearing to consider candidate projects for Fiscal Year 2006 is scheduled for Oct. 8. CAMPO will consider the next round of projects to take to the Texas Transportation Commission on Nov. 19. Candidate projects will include freeway main lanes and frontage road for US 290 West, east of Williamson Creek to West of RM 1826; US 183 south of FM 969 to south of Technicenter Drive; State Highway 71 west of Riverside Drive to Thornberry Drive; US 183 from north of FM 969 to south of FM 969; State Highway 71 east of Cardinal Loop to east of FM 973; and the addition of a bridge across Greenlawn Boulevard over Interstate 35. The total cost of the five projects will be between $249 million and $255 million.

CAMPO will take its top three projects to the Texas Transportation Commission next February. The problem is that the $175 million the state has allotted is too little for too many projects. Overall though, Aulick said, the Austin area has done well. While Austin is only 6 percent of the population, the area has earned 11 percent of the road funding.

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Officers elected at ZAP . . . The new Zoning and Platting Commission met for the first time and elected officers last night. Only one commissioner, Diana Casteñada, was absent. The following were elected by unanimous votes: Chair, Betty Baker; Vice Chair, Joseph Martinez; Secretary, Michael Casias; Assistant Secretary, Jean Mather; and Parliamentarian, Keith Jackson. The commission heard two contested cases, which were also decided by unanimous vote, and the group adjourned about 8:30 p.m . . . Postponed . . . Mayoral candidate Gus Garcia did not make his official announcement yesterday, as he had planned, due to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC . . . Diez y Seis cancelled. . . The City of Austin announced yesterday that Austin’s annual celebration of Mexico’s independence, scheduled for Saturday, was cancelled at the request of President Vincent Fox . . . Later . . . The Downtown Austin Association and the Heritage Society of Austin announced that they plan to reschedule a luncheon planned for Tuesday featuring Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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