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Busy new Council member

Friday, July 26, 2002 by

Talks about budget, Stratus

Dunkerley expects permanent staff cuts, but not layoffs

Council Member Betty Dunkerley has been in her office this week meeting with both new people and old friends every 30 minutes. It’s a job she clearly relishes. Dunkerley has been mostly quiet on the dais, as is the norm for a brand new Council member, but she can be expected to have a lot more to say in coming weeks when the Council turns its attention to the budget.

Dunkerley said “ Toby’s ( Futrell) going to present us a balanced budget next week. I expect a significant number of positions to be cut, but I’m not anticipating any layoffs.” Two years ago, she noted, when she was still an Assistant City Manager, city staff began to hold positions vacant. “So, in essence, we’re deciding how many of those to cut,” she said. “When we do get an upturn in the economy, we’ll see what we can add back.” Even then, she said, “We’re going to be very careful about what we add.”

Elimination of positions is a painful notion for those in managerial positions as well as the employees who have to take up the slack. “The other thing the City Manager is going to be looking at is the administrative costs,” and making significant reductions, Dunkerley said. Last year, staff started a process to look at all administrative costs to see what services could be consolidated. As a result, she said, “Almost every year there is a process improvement and we try to incorporate” those improvements into the next year’s budget. She said she did not expect any departments to be consolidated, but that there could be an elimination of some functions by one department if another department was already doing a similar function. Central purchasing, for example, took over purchasing for Austin Energy, reducing the positions devoted to that function by two-thirds.

Dunkerley was careful to say that an employee in any position that might be eliminated as a result of consolidation should be able to find another position within the city. “I’m eager to get the City Manager’s first budget and I’m expecting to see that it meets a lot of the criteria that we gave her,” at the budget retreat in May, she said. At that time, the city was anticipating a $71.8 million gap between expenditures and revenues. (See In Fact Daily, May 16, 2002 .) On Tuesday, Futrell said the gap was closer to $75 million.

As for the pending Stratus Properties settlement, Dunkerley said attorneys are still working on a number of issues, including the section addressing what would happen if the city decided to downzone any of the property governed by the agreement. She said it is important that the city try to improve the agreement with respect to the residents of the New Village of Western Oaks. That neighborhood was inadvertently left out of the stakeholder process, she said. Even if neighbors do not sign off on changes that might be beneficial to them, she said, it is incumbent upon the city to strike the best possible deal on their behalf. She said it is difficult for the Council to keep up with changes to the agreement on a day-to-day basis because the lawyers are meeting with Council members on a one-on-one basis. “We’re all trying to get some tightening up of the agreement and we need to get an analysis of what’s in and what’s out,” she said. But she added that the staff has “done a really good job of trying to keep us informed.” She said several members of the Council are studying the issue of setbacks from the Longhorn Pipeline.

Owner failed to talk to Edgemond before scheduled hearing

A South Austin business owner won the endorsement of the Zoning and Platting Commission this week for a zoning change that will enable him to open a liquor store on William Cannon Drive. But the recommendation came with an extensive list of conditions requested by Betty Edgemond, who’s been active on a variety of issues related to quality of life in South Austin.

The case had originally been scheduled for a hearing last week, but was postponed after Edgemond objected. She requested an opportunity to meet with the business owner, Michael Mgba, to discuss her concerns. The requested zoning change was from GR to CS-1, which she opposed. ““I really don’t think it’s large enough for CS-1 zoning,” Edgemond said of the space inside a shopping center at 111 W. William Cannon. Neighboring sites are primarily zoned GR or LR. Staff had originally recommended approval of the change since the proposed use was determined to be compatible with surrounding uses.

Edgemond, a member of the Board of Adjustment, told commissioners she was concerned about the impact of a liquor store in the area and also wanted to make sure that no other CS-1 uses would be allowed to move in if the store should go out of business. “I’m opposed to the CS-1 zoning in that shopping center,” Edgemond said. “Although there is a tiny, tiny piece of CS-1—I don’t know how that got past me . . . but it’s never been utilized.” She urged commissioners to consider a host of restrictions if they were intent on granting the requested zoning change.

The business owner agreed to Edgemond’s suggested restrictions for the site, which will include a prohibition of pawnshops, adult-oriented businesses, gun sales and the use of any flashing signs. He was also willing to enter into a restrictive covenant with the City of Austin over a zoning rollback to GR if the store—which will be named “Vicky’s Liquor Store”—ceases operation. The commission approved the change and Edgemond’s conditions on a vote of 7-1.

Friday

Rumors . . . The City Hall rumor mill has almost ground to a halt with so few people around this week. But In Fact Daily has been hearing for weeks that Jean Mather would not be reappointed to the Zoning and Platting Commission. The word now is that Mather and attorney Frank Ivy are being considered for the Historic Landmark Commission. Mather has certainly demonstrated her willingness to sit through long hours of tedious testimony, and she volunteers for extra duties on a regular basis. The buzz says Melissa Whaley, co-owner of the Austin Permit Service, is likely to be appointed to the ZAP Commission next week . . . More requests for Stratus . . . Mary Arnold, one of the grandmothers of the environmental movement in Austin, has sent a list of 10 requests to the City Council that starts with something that may be difficult to do given the ever-shifting provisions of the Stratus Properties settlement proposal: make finalized documents on the deal available at least three days before any final action. Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong and his attorney, Steve Drenner, are out of town this week, making it harder to further fine-tune the agreement. Arnold’s other requests include reducing impervious cover to 8 percent overall, which she figures means 26 acres less than already agreed. She suggests changing surface parking to garages as one way to do that . . . PID gains support . . . The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), which receives most of its funding from the Downtown Public Improvement District (PID), plans to present signed petitions to Mayor Gus Garcia at 3:30pm Monday for reauthorization of the PID. The DAA says it has the signatures from property owners representing over 80 percent of the value of the district for reauthorization of the PID. The City Council first approved the PID in 1993 and reauthorization is required every five years. The DAA’s mission is basically to promote downtown interests and represent them before local and state officials. The alliance is responsible for various programs including the Austin Downtown Rangers, the outdoor Tuesday Noontime Concerts, the Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Capitol and graffiti and litter removal . . . Stanley stumps for David Bernsen . . . State Sen. David Bernsen is credited with closing a “grandfather loophole” for industrial air polluters. He is the Democratic nominee for State Land Commissioner. Democratic activist and fundraiser Alfred Stanley is encouraging like-minded Austinites to start block-walking this weekend for Bernsen. This weekend’s target is Travis Heights. For more information, call Hilary at 481-9797 . . . Keep it clean and friendly . . . J.L. Howze, chairman of the Policy Advisory Committee of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District told new members yesterday, “Treat everyone with respect. There will be no foul or abusive language. Few members tend to get excited. We’re here to make sure we protect our drinking water.” The new members are David Cowan, Nancy Brinkley and Vivian Caputo.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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