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Council Members outline

Friday, September 7, 2001 by

Short budget wish lists

Garza wins high marks for work In a downturn

Now that City Manager Jesus Garza has indicated that the city will have more money than initially anticipated for next year’s budget, Council Members are busy writing up their wish lists. Garza has said he recommends spending about $450,000 in addition to his initial budget and saving the remaining $450,000 as a contingency fund.

The lists of Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Daryl Slusher both begin with an additional $82,000 for Mental Health-Mental Retardation programs. Jerry Rusthoven, executive assistant to Goodman, explained that Travis County is also contributing $82,000 to the program, which suffered from cuts in state funding. Slusher and Council Member Beverly Griffith both mentioned the Roving Leader program, which currently works with about 1,000 East Austin teenagers. Slusher said the city manager is already planning to put the MH-MR funding and $262,000 for Roving Leaders back into the budget.

Griffith said, however, that the program really needs twice that amount—$524,000—to fill the program’s 16 positions. In addition, she said she would ask that $100,000 be reinstated to programs for summer, after-school and weekend programs at the Dove Springs, Barbara Jordan and Zaragosa Recreation Centers. She said elimination from the Parks and Recreation Department budget of three employees who work directly with children is unwise because “demand is going up every year.”

Griffith said Thursday she is “cautiously optimistic” about chances for funding a Sobriety Center pilot program. The program would work through MH-MR, the police department, Psychological Emergency Services and Brackenridge Hospital to get treatment for alcoholics, drug abusers and people with mental problems. A major goal of the program would be to allow police to deliver persons arrested for public intoxication to a caseworker, instead of to jail. Griffith said officers are now spending two hours or more incarcerating intoxicated persons. The pilot project would cost $80 to $85,000, she said. Council Member Raul Alvarez said he wants to put money back into the budget for the GTOPS program. The acronym means grants for telecommunication opportunities, roughly translated to grants for web page design, movies and multi-media projects, similar to funding for cultural arts. The program is also a $100,000 item on Goodman’s wish list. Alvarez said he also would like to see money added to the budget for traffic calming devices, a favorite in many near-downtown neighborhoods.

Council Member Will Wynn told In Fact Daily, “It’s remarkable, and our city manager and his staff should be commended,” for cutting $15 to $20 million from the current year’s budget and bringing that money into the 2002 budget. “Otherwise, we’d be politically miserable . . . It’s remarkable that we’re even having this discussion” about what to add, he said.

Wynn predicted that he would spend the coming weekend looking for more cuts in the budget in order to bring forward a proposal to fund the top recommendation of the library task force, namely a new system that would allow library users to check out their own materials. “I know our library system is nowhere like it should be,” in the 21st Century, he said. The Libraries of the Future Task Force spent two years on a report and list of recommendations that would cost several million dollars. The technology for the checkout system would be about $250,000. Wynn said it is important to give task force members a signal that the Council was paying attention to their message, noting that task force members had promised that they would raise money in the private sector to augment what the city put in. “I would be very disappointed,” if the Council could not fund at least the top recommendation, he said. Wynn also wants to full funding for the Roving Leader program.

Council Member Danny Thomas said he is satisfied with most of the budget, which includes money for treatment of sickle cell anemia, midnight basketball and East Side Story. He said he would join Goodman in asking for $35,500 to deal with asbestos and put a new roof on the Norwood House at Riverside and I-35. He said he also wants to make sure that the Parks & Recreation Department budget includes the summer concert program at Rosewood Park. That program is also targeted toward young people, Thomas noted.

Goodman is also supporting an additional $50,000 for a Farmers Market in East Austin and funds for the Heat Island initiative, to reduce the amount of heat generated by the city. While the latter may not be funded beyond the planting of a tree farm on Austin Energy land, another program for saving energy seems likely to proceed. The electric utility plans to expand its duct diagnostic and sealing program for an additional $500,000.

Kristen Vassallo, executive assistant to Mayor Kirk Watson, said her boss is generally pleased with the budget and would likely support a number of the projects other members of the Council have targeted. The proposed tax rate is 45.97 cents per $100 valuation, a reduction of about 2/3 of a cent from the current rate.

Environmental Board recommends

Variances for Champion Tract

Bull Creek foundation says it does not object

The Environmental Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend granting variances that would allow a 136-acre development of apartments and offices on the Champion Tract at the northwest corner of Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) and FM2222.

With Board Members Karin Ascot and Ramon Alvarez absent, the Board voted in concurrence with the recommendation of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR) to allow the developer to exceed impervious cover limits on slopes of 15-25 percent, and to exceed four-foot cut and fill limitations.

The development calls for a 457-unit apartment complex, scaled back from a previous plan of 570 single-family units, and 230,000 square feet of offices—some 127,000 square feet less than originally proposed—according to James Knight, with Bury & Partners, Inc., who represented the Champion family.

Knight said the overall impervious cover for the 122.79-acre site would be 14.9 percent, or 18.38 acres, which is less than the allowable 17.5 percent. He also said that 97 percent of the site was compliant with the city’s cut and fill requirements.

Lee Lawson, with the WPDR, said this “case has been around many, many years.” She noted that the tract, which is in the jurisdiction of the city, lies within in the Bull Creek and West Bull Creek watersheds. A document from her department reads, “The applicant has made significant efforts to minimize the areas of disturbance, the overall limits of construction and potential environmental impact of this project. Approximately 90 acres of this property will remain in its natural undisturbed state.”

No one appeared at the public hearing to oppose the development. Skip Cameron, president of the Bull Creek Foundation, sent an unusual note for Chair Lee Leffingwell to read stating, “The Bull Creek Foundation has no objection to the development.”

Knight said his firm had been working with city staff for about nine months to arrive at a compromise, resulting in less impervious cover, less construction on slopes, structurally contained cut and fill areas to minimize environmental impact and water quality measures far above city requirements.

He added that lots 1, 2 and 10 of the Champion subdivision would be set aside and remain undeveloped, though it was uncertain exactly what sort of stewardship would serve to protect the land.

Leffingwell added two friendly amendments to Board Member Debra Williams' motion to approve the variance requests. He asked for all cut and fill areas to be structurally contained, and that a conservation easement, or similar vehicle, be used to insure the protection of lots 1, 2 and 10. Board Member Matt Watson clarified Leffingwell’s amendment by recommending that the conservation easement be the preferred option, rather than the land becoming part of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP) or parkland unto itself.

Vice-chair Tim Jones said BCP officials had told him they didn’t want the land because it would probably not serve as habitat for the endangered Golden-cheeked warbler. Prior to the presentation Jones showed a video of Golden-cheeked warblers feeding in the area. Knight said the BCP option would be the last resort.

Leffingwell wryly noted he did not recuse himself from the vote even though Josie Champion had been his music teacher when he was a boy.

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Planning ahead . . . Commissioners on the Water &Wastewater Commission agree the downturn in Austin’s economy means they will have to take a more aggressive look at the budget and utility rates over the next year. Commissioner Jim Haley said he was willing to bypass more mundane topics to spend more time looking at recommendations that could have given residents rate relief . . . Learning about land development. . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will serve on a panel of experts on land development this afternoon at a seminar put on by the Travis County Bar at the Omni Hotel . . . City web site lauded. . . The City of Austin’ s official web site, has been selected as one of the three best city web sites for cities in the 500,000 to 1 million category. Austin joined San Jose and Seattle and was chosen primarily for the amount of usable information the site provides to citizens. City Manager Jesus Garza said, “We are focusing our e-government efforts on the services most desired by residents . . . using the web to further our goal of responsive, affordable government.” You can visit the site at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us. . . Formal announcement next week . . . We expect mayoral candidate Gus Garcia to formally announce his candidacy for Mayor next Tuesday.

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