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Budget officials reveal plan

Friday, December 7, 2001 by

For dealing with shortfall

Short-term loan to make up for sales tax loss

John Stephens, director of Financial Services, and Budget Officer Rudy Garza gave the City Council a bleak picture of the city’s economic forecast Thursday, but assured members that the situation was under control. Stephens backed up his projections with a presentation of “actions we are taking and plan to take to keep our budget in balance.” One of those actions is a proposed Tax Anticipation Note, a short-term loan to make up for sales tax shortfalls and the increased expense for homeland security.

The department’s objectives, outlined in a presentation by Garza, include the intention to continue providing all basic city services and to maintain fiscal integrity. Despite a dramatic decline in the growth rate of tax revenues, and a forecast of continued economic uncertainty—all exacerbated by the terrorist attacks of September 11, which require increased expenditure on homeland security—the department intends to avoid disruption of services by maintaining flexibility.

The Tax Anticipation Note would be an $8 million loan borrowed against future property tax revenues. “This note would be repaid in full in 2003,” Stephens said.

Because growth and revenues are expected to be down over the next few years, this loan would serve to put the city in better financial position for the upcoming years, he said. The note would be repaid with a 1.66-cent tax increase in fiscal year 2003, he explained. The proposal will come before the City Council next month.

Garza said consumer confidence is at a five-year low and financial statistics have been in decline across the board for the last five months. He pointed out various economic indicators, including commercial office space occupancy in Austin, which is in decline after peaking at more than 95 percent occupancy in 2000. The rate had been increasing dramatically for ten years.

Some analysts say a recovery may come in the second quarter of 2002, Garza said, but the level of uncertainty remains very high. The city has done a good job of managing its resources, he said, but immediate action is needed to keep things on an even keel.

City Manager Jesus Garza said last year the city brought in $122 million in sales tax revenues compared to $123 million this year, $4.5 million below what had been originally anticipated. The projected growth rate of two percent just didn’t pan out, he said, and the city has to make that up somehow. “We wanted to make sure there was no disruption to city services,” he added.

A chart published by the Financial Services Department shows the sales tax growth rate peaking at about 14 percent in 2000 and plummeting to less than two percent in 2001.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said the priorities are to avoid any major cuts in city services and any major layoffs. “We’ve got some very tough choices to make,” he said, noting that significant work will be required in the coming year.

“It’s a really sobering presentation, though it’s not really a surprise,” he said, emphasizing that homeland security needs must be addressed. Social services, environmental protection and due attention to our local culture and the arts are also important, he said.

Council approves Wildhorse

PUD, with Wynn dissenting

No guarantees on responsibility for SH 130 right-of-way

Everything was going fine for developer Pete Dwyer and his Wildhorse Planned Unit Development Thursday. Most of the City Council was smiling. Mayor Gus Garcia said, “I want to congratulate you because this is the Desired Development Zone and I like your approach on affordable housing. I hope it helps development that’s taking place along that area.” The proposed Smart Growth residential mixed-use development, located just north of Lake Walter E. Long and south of Manor, has been in the works for more than two years.

Even though staff still has questions about drainage plans and impervious cover, City Environmental Officer Pat Murphy indicated that they could work on those questions before the matter comes back for second and third reading. The City Council ended the discussion of the PUD by voting 6-1 in favor, with only Council Member Will Wynn voting no. Dwyer was pleased, but said he was puzzled by Wynn’s vote.

Wynn told In Fact Daily, “I have a lot of questions about who will be paying for SH 130 right-of-way,” which were not answered during the presentation. When Dwyer set out to design the project, the state highway was proposed to go west of the development. But the City of Austin and Travis County both said they would not pay for any right-of-way that was not along the preferred, eastern alignment. So, when the State of Texas changed the road alignment, Dwyer had to reconsider his plans too. It has cost him time and money. In the meantime, the city agreed to limited purpose annexation for the PUD, with each section of land to become fully annexed as it is platted. Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd explained that the arrangement would be “along the lines of what has been done at Avery Ranch.” The agreement is still pending because the Council has only approved it on first reading. Dwyer was hoping that the process could be completed, along with approval of the PUD next month.

Joe Gieselman, executive manager of transportation and natural resources for Travis County, applauded Dwyer’s willingness to offer the county parkland. However, he would not commit the county to purchase of the right-of-way, which will run through the middle of the development. One reason Gieselman is so reluctant is that Travis County and TxDOT are still in tough negotiations over exactly how much each will pay. The county has agreed to 50 percent, but the State wants 100 percent. Under questioning from Wynn, Gieselman said, “The money was authorized for the eastern alignment and nothing else.” He noted that the total in the county coffers for right-of-way is $9 million. But nobody knows how much the county will actually be asked to pay, or what the city might owe if the land were annexed before that decision is reached.

Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, told Wynn, “You don’t need to address right-of-way matters during this process. We can do it at the Zoning and Platting Commission,” when the time comes.

Wynn said he was disturbed by the cavalier attitude expressed by everyone concerning the money.

The following report is from Wednesday's Environmental Board meeting:

Following last week’s Zoning and Platting Commission recommendation for the Wildhorse Ranch Planned Unit Development, the Environmental Board also voted Wednesday night to recommend the PUD, but with conditions. (See In Fact Daily Nov. 28, 2001, Nov. 16, 2001.) The vote was 5-0, with Board Members Matt Watson and Ramon Alvarez absent.

Dwyer gave the Board a presentation on Nov. 14, but the five Board Members present decided to postpone making a recommendation on the PUD due to a lack of documentation necessary for thorough review. Dwyer returned Wednesday to answer questions after a presentation by Susan Villarreal, project manager in the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department.

Villarreal said the net site acreage for the PUD has been reduced by 45 acres for a current total of 1,899 acres. Instead of being included in the PUD, the 45 acres will now become part of a 327-acre Travis County park, she said.

While the ZAP recommendation mirrored the staff recommendation, the Environmental Board’s motion stipulates stricter water quality measures. The drainage easements recommended by staff would be tightened up by the Board’s recommendation. The easement minimum of 50 feet from the centerline of the waterway, as staff recommends, was okay with the Board. But to provide better headwater protection, the Board voted to increase the area of floodplain drainage beyond the staff recommendation. Staff’s suggested criteria is 64 to 320 acres, but the Board recommended drainage easements be provided for streams with drainage areas greater than 10 acres.

In addition, the PUD’s proposed golf course became a target for the Board. The recommendation calls for all or part of the golf course to be replaced with open parkland available for public access, or with other undisturbed open space. If the golf course is approved, the Board recommended it be managed subject to City of Austin’s Best Management Practices regulations. Golf course pro Roy Bechtol said Thursday the developer had readily agreed to that part of the recommendation.

The board recommendation also states that stormwater runoff from SH 130 should be properly diverted and treated according to a design set before the subdivision is built. Vice-chair Tim Jones expressed particular concern about pollution that would emanate from the future intersection of SH 130 and Parmer Lane. “Where the greatest pollution impact occurs is at intersections,” he said. “I don’t want to make it onerous on the developer,” he said, but the issue needs to be addressed. “That’s what I would be looking at, is how to mitigate that intersection.”

Dwyer said, “I understand . . . we are philosophically buying into that.” But, he cautioned, his intention is to build affordable housing and if he has to spend ever-increasing amounts on infrastructure and items such as water-quality systems for a state highway, he would end up having to pass those costs on to the homebuyers.

Board Member Phil Moncada made a motion to deny recommending the PUD due to a lack of adequate information, the unknown variable of the exact alignment of SH 130 and the unknowable variances that will be required for the eventual construction of SH 130. His motion failed for lack of a second.

Moncada also expressed concerns about the City of Austin having to shell out the cost of water and wastewater infrastructure during times of tight budgets and decreasing rates of revenue. “So what we would be doing is building infrastructure for another city and it would go into their tax base,” he said.

Dwyer expressed confidence that an interlocal agreement between Austin and the City of Manor would mandate equity in that regard.

Third time's the charm

For Dawson zoning

Zoning changes win unanimous Council approval

The Council gave final approval Thursday to the hotly contested zoning changes associated with the Dawson Neighborhood Plan. At the request of Council Member Daryl Slusher, the conditional-use portion of the ordinance was modified to allow gas stations as conforming uses at the intersections of South Congress and Oltorf and South Congress and Ben White. Council Member Beverly Griffith also wanted to remove the conditional-use overlay from a gas station on South First, but wasn’t able to muster any support for that idea. Slusher, a South Austin resident, championed the changes, going through the neighborhood to talk to residents and business owners about the plan.

Slusher managed to convince Council Member Danny Thomas to vote for the changes—many of which required a supermajority (6 votes) of the Council for passage. Thomas and Griffith both had voted against the zoning on prior readings. The vote yesterday was unanimous. Slusher said he thought the high volume of phone calls to Council offices from the plan’s supporters had helped assure final passage.

During the past months, a small group of zealous opponents had been trashing the plan and barraging the Council and neighbors with lies and half-truths about it. Slusher told In Fact Daily after the meeting, “Maybe we wore them down (the opponents) by telling the truth. I’m real happy the negative tactics didn’t carry the day.” One of the examples Slusher gave was that opponents had distributed information saying that the plan would cause the neighborhood’s streets to be reduced to a size that would not allow passage of emergency vehicles.

Slusher also praised members of the Neighborhood Planning Team, who never stopped working on the plan. The Dawson plan was the first to go through the Neighborhood Plan process. One of the lessons staff learned during the course of planning the near-south neighborhood was that zoning changes should be worked out simultaneously with the plan.

Billboard saga continued

After first vote on changes

Council supports staff, but more changes coming

The continuing battle between Reagan Outdoor Advertising and its supporters and the smaller billboard companies ended in a draw last night, with the little guys coming away with more reason for hope. Even though the anti-billboard group Scenic Austin has joined forces with Reagan, that support was not enough to win changes Reagan was seeking to the city’s off-premise sign ordinance.

The City Council voted 5-1, with Council Member Will Wynn dissenting and Council Member Danny Thomas having departed, to adopt the city staff version of the new ordinance, essentially the same as the one adopted by the Planning Commission. Council Member Raul Alvarez added one amendment, which would prevent a billboard company from using any sign that is going to be removed as a result of development to count toward a replacement sign.

City Manager Jesus Garza said staff would “take a crack at crafting a new ordinance,” and bring it back in January. That attempt would presumably take into account some of the objections from Scenic Austin that the current and proposed ordinances are not working to rid the city of billboards, without cutting out the small companies.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Neighborhood plans approved . . . The City Council tackled several neighborhood plans on Thursday. The Holly Neighborhood Plan was passed on first reading, as were the accompanying zoning changes. The passage on first reading includes several modifications suggested by Council Member Raul Alvarez, including height limits on dozens of tracts to govern future commercial development. Members of El Concilio spoke out against the zoning changes complaining that they would promote gentrification. The Council also approved the Central East Austin Neighborhood plan on first and second reading, while approving the zoning changes on first reading only . . . Former Travis County Commissioner Todd Baxter is announcing his future political plans this morning at 10:00am in the Speaker’s Committee Room in the State Capitol. That location is a good sign Baxter will announce he’s running for State Representative in District 48, which now covers GOP-leaning parts of western Travis County.

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