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County adopts budget, but

Wednesday, September 26, 2001 by

Commissioners want update

Revenues from investments in question

Travis County Commissioners approved an anticipated budget and tax rate on Tuesday morning, but not before County Judge Sam Biscoe raised a red flag on investments.

County commissioners gave unanimous support to a $289.5 million budget, a 9 percent increase over last year’s numbers. Despite the increase, the tax rate was down 2 cents to 44.6 cents per hundred-dollar valuation because of tax base growth.

Christian Smith, executive manager of Planning and Budget, pointed out that the county tax rate has decreased seven out of the last eight years. The growth in home values, however, will mean the average homeowner will see an extra $29 on this year’s tax bill.

The only significant discussion at the table was Biscoe’s concern that the events of Sept. 11 had put anticipated profits on county investments in jeopardy. Investments that typically earned between 5 and 6 percent on the stock market are now earning between 2 and 3 percent. That could mean a $1.5 million to $2 million shortfall in county revenues.

“We need to be keeping an eye on the national and world situation so that 90 days from now—if we need to take more drastic measures—we would be able to,” Biscoe told the court, detailing some options for cost savings. “We can give ourselves an opportunity next Tuesday to decide what action is appropriate.”

Biscoe recommended, and the commissioners concurred, that county staff should come back with more information next week on anticipated market performance and cost-savings options for the county. Those options might include holding off on hiring non-essential positions or tightening up policies on the use of allocated reserves. County commissioners also agreed they wanted to see quarterly updates on the health of the county’s investments.

Highlights of this year’s county budget include a 5 percent raise for all full-time employees, funding to construction a Precinct 4 office building for precinct staff and an additional 16 positions to enhance the county’s ability to collect fines and fees. There will be a net increase of 76 positions to the county staff this year.

Eastside neighborhood wants

Telecomm towers restricted

Planning Commission to hear Holly plan tonight

Gavino Fernandez, leader of the Holly Neighborhood Plan, last night pleaded with the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) to deny a request for a telecommunications tower on the 2200 block of E. 6th Street. San Saba/Crown Castle was asking that the commission grant a conditional use permit for the tower. The permit is required for the area covered by the East Austin Overlay, which was enacted to assist East Austin neighborhoods going through the neighborhood planning process.

Fernandez told the ZAP that he and his neighbors would appear before the Planning Commission tonight to ask for approval of its neighborhood plan. He talked about the city’s extensive outreach process and the conditional overlay that he and his neighbors would like to see enacted as part of the Holly plan. He said the proposed conditional overlay would “restrict the following uses throughout the district: adult-oriented businesses, exterminating services, campgrounds, convenience storage, telecommunications towers (and) transportation terminals.” He suggested that 7th Street would be a more appropriate location for the towers.

He noted that many members of the commission have been strong supporters of the neighborhood planning process. “This is the first test that we would have . . . before any commission to validate all that hard work and sweat,” he said.

Vince Huebinger of Vincent Gerard & Associates, said three companies— AT&T, Cingular and Verizon—“have an area here of no coverage,” adding that the tower would be 300 feet away from closest single family residence. He said he had met with three or four members of the planning team to discuss the application and they indicated they would have no problem with his client’s application.

Activist Paul Hernandez said he attended that meeting, but did not think it meant members of the team would support the tower. “Another tower, no matter what the purpose, is not what we want or what we need,” said Hernandez.

The fact that the Planning Commission would be considering the plan tonight clearly weighed heavily with ZAP commissioners. Chair Betty Baker made a motion to postpone a decision on the case until next Tuesday, at which time she will have legal questions about whether telecommunications towers can be banned from particular areas. Commissioners agreed to the postponement, voting 8-1, with Commissioner Jean Mather voting no.

More changes in Land Code possible

Principal Planner Greg Guernsey and Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry told commissioners that in the future they might not be asked to decide zoning questions on the brink of a neighborhood plan being presented to the Planning Commission.

Guernsey said that the Planning Commission had recommended an amendment to the Land Development Code that would “ensure that in an area in which a neighborhood plan is being developed” zoning cases would go to the Planning Commission.

Baker told Guernsey, “If that amendment passes, then you would not need this commission . . . if they pass that they will have very little need for this commission and that distresses me greatly.” The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal on Oct. 4, Guernsey said.

Goodall-Wooten House

To have on-site parking

After rejection of parking garage by Council

The Historic Landmark Commission on Monday approved developer Bill Gurasich’s plans for additional parking at the Goodall-Wooten House at 1900 Rio Grande. The revised plans call for modifications to allow additional parking on-site. Gurasich, while acting as an agent for Austin Recovery, had previously attempted to secure parking nearby. However, that effort was met with opposition by residents of the surrounding Judge’s Hill neighborhood and was rejected by the City Council.(See In Fact Daily, Aug. 10, 2001.)

At that time, the plans called for the Goodall-Wooten House to be used for office space since the previous tenant, a drug-treatment facility, had moved out. According to Gurasich, the new proposal would have the house operated as a “niche hotel”, similar to a bed and breakfast. To obtain the necessary parking spaces for that use, Gurasich proposes constructing a single, elevated parking level over the existing parking lot next to Rio Grande. That would increase the number of available parking spaces from 35 to about 60.

Commission members devoted most of their attention to how the additional aboveground parking spaces would be screened from the building. While the developers proposed using landscaping and vegetation, Commissioner Laurie Limbacher encouraged a more solid, permanent buffer such as a brick wall. “I thought something more permanent than landscaping would be a better solution,” she said. “I’m just concerned that when cars get parked on the upper level, they’ll be quite visible and I’d like to see them better screened.”

Gurasich offered reassurances that the foliage would adequately screen the cars from view. “I think you’ll see five feet of Carolina jasmine, which will be yellow blooms,” he said. “If that’s inadequate, we’re happy to come back to you after a year of operation and add something more opaque. We want this to be a garden atmosphere.”

The commission voted to approve the plans as submitted for a certificate of appropriateness. Only Commissioners Lisa Laky and Limbacher were opposed.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

What do you think about boards and commissions? . . The Parks and Recreation Board was the first to see a survey being sent out by the task force to overhaul the city’s board and commissions system. Task force members are asking for feedback on how to improve the survey, which the task force intends to mail out within the next two weeks . . . Land sale causes concern . . . Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance has written a letter to the City Council about the proposed sale of some land the city purchased with money from Proposition 2, the water quality proposal. The sales will be made with conservation easements on the property, which will limit future development. Bunch argues that no Prop. 2 land should be sold until the Environmental Board, Water & Wastewater Commission, Planning Commission, and the public, have had an opportunity to review and comment on the proposal. He also argues that now is not a good time to be selling land in general. However, another environmentalist says this property was never intended to be part of the permanent Prop. 2 holdings and sees no problem with selling it now . . . Energy restructuring is the topic . . . If you read this early enough, you might make it to the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce 7:30am breakfast meeting at the Renaissance Hotel. Five electric utility experts, including Chuck Manning, general manager of Austin Energy, and Sam Jones, COO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas will forecast the future for listeners. Rounding out the panel are Bennie Fuelberg, general manager of Pedernales Electric Cooperative and Suzanne Bertin of the New Power Company. The moderator is G. Gail Watkins of Akin, Gump. Statewide restructuring is scheduled for January 1 . . . ALGPC Forum . . . The Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus is hosting a forum for mayoral candidates along with its annual community meeting at 7pm on Oct. 8 in the auditorium of the AFL/CIO at 11th and Colorado. At the conclusion of this short forum, ALGPC members will vote to endorse a candidate in the Nov. 6 election. The highlight of the meeting will be a review of the political challenges facing gays and lesbians in Texas during the upcoming political year by State Rep. Glen Maxey and Dianne Hardy-Garcia, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas.

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