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Futrell presents balanced budget With no layoffs or increased taxes

Thursday, August 1, 2002 by

Fees will go up; library hours to return to normal

City Manager Toby Futrell presented a proposal for a $1.841 billion dollar budget for the next fiscal year Wednesday, carefully avoiding the dreaded specter of raising property taxes and laying off city employees. The proposed 2002-2003 budget includes many of the recommendations made by City Council members during a pair of budget retreats earlier this year. (See In Fact Daily, May 16, 2002 and In Fact Daily, May 23, 2002.) In the two months since those retreats, Futrell and city staff have found another $29 million dollars through cost savings and additional revenue to bring the budget into balance.

Much of that money is coming from cuts in spending for administration. “Departments were told to do a permanent five percent administrative management cut,” Futrell said. “And our support services department produced another $8.5 million in administrative cuts. If you take all of the cuts—and the administrative cuts that fell into other categories—in total we have reduced our administrative overhead by almost $17 million in this budget.”

One of the largest factors in avoiding a budget shortfall will be the elimination of 50 percent of currently vacant city jobs. The city has been holding positions open for more than a year in anticipation of the current budget situation. A total of 321 positions are on the chopping block. Futrell said that 22 of those were currently filled, but that those employees will be reassigned to another position within the city with no decrease in salary. While the proposed budget does not include any layoffs, pay-for-performance raises and market salary adjustments will be placed on hold for at least a year. “Cutting employee pay raises and market adjustments was a difficult decision,” Futrell said, “but it allows us to guarantee that all city employees will keep their jobs.” The city will also absorb the rising cost of health insurance and dental benefits for city employees to ensure that workers will not receive less take-home pay. Futrell is also recommending the addition of one paid personal holiday per year for city employees.

Futrell called upon every city department to come up with its own potential cutbacks. After studying the impact of each department’s proposals, Futrell said, they were able to cut an additional $12.1 million in expenses. “Some of these were further administrative cuts,” Futrell said. “Some of them were further elimination of vacancies. Some of them were strategic reductions in programs. Each department took a different level of this cut depending on what we thought we could do with the least impact to citizens. In some cases we added back funds.” That includes money for the Library Department, which will restore library hours that were scaled back this year to save money.

The belt-tightening measures put forward by the City Manager’s office drew praise from Council members. “The best way to describe it is a responsible budget,” Mayor Gus Garcia said. “It’s one that takes into consideration the services that we provide our community and at the same time tries to protect the interests of our employees.”

The Council will hear a series of presentations on specific aspects of the budget throughout August and will hold several public hearings before voting on it during the second week in September.

announces plan for public To purchase Stratus office tract

Details of deal continue to evolve

As city staff and representatives of Stratus Properties continued to fine-tune the agreement that would settle the developer’s grandfathering claims and allow office, retail and residential construction to move forward, Council Member Daryl Slusher announced a plan to purchase Tract 110, slated to become home to750,000 square feet of offices. Slusher notes that the city cannot currently afford to buy the land, but that members of the community could raise the funds to do so.

In his proposal, Slusher wrote, “There is a lot of energy and involvement about this land. One way to turn that energy into a positive force would be a community drive to buy the property. If great momentum is built there would be no need to stop with Tract 110,” the office and retail tract under the agreement. “But we can begin with this one that has generated so much energy.”

Shudde Fath, treasurer of the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA), said, “I like it. It’s kind of a put your money where your mouth is . . . I know that Save Barton Creek has always said the way to do is it is to own the land.” Fath said she had volunteered, as treasurer of the organization, to help collect funds for the project, adding that she thinks people who live in Circle C and those who depend on the aquifer for drinking water should be willing to donate. Fath said she did not know exactly how much would be needed, but had heard a figure of $20 million. “I’ve never handled $20 million and I look forward to it,” she said, laughing.

Beau Armstrong, CEO of Stratus Properties, said, “I think we’ve been consistent since we started this process that we are more than willing to sell our property at fair market value and I applaud Council Member Slusher’s effort . . . While we think that what we propose is very sensitive to the aquifer, we recognize that it is an emotional issue . . . I will work with him in any way I can to further his proposal.”

Downtown leader Perry Lorenz was enthusiastic about the proposal. “I like it a lot. First and foremost, I would prefer that nothing got built out there. This increases the options and possibilities . . . it’s exactly the right track to be on,” he said, especially with regard to Tract 110. “I think that office space is a serious issue and a problem because it will attract the workforce . . . It’s the most dangerous.” Lorenz, who serves on the board of the Hill Country Conservancy, said he would “absolutely . . . do everything I can do to try to find somebody to help finance” the purchase.

Jon Beall, a member of the Stratus stakeholder group and president of SBCA, said, “I think if we can buy it we ought to, and (Slusher is) trying to set up a method to do so. Good for him. That’s what New York City did for their watershed. Its true if we spend money to preserve the water supply it’s going to be a heck of a lot cheaper than cleaning up afterwards.”

Tract 110 consists of 246 acres along MoPac just south of Slaughter. Under the agreement, Stratus or a successor could build 750,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of retail. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has already reached an agreement with Stratus that would allow 1.8 million square feet of office and 100 single-family homes at 15 percent impervious cover. The settlement agreement would lower impervious cover on the tract to 13.7 percent.

Opponents of the agreement and Longhorn Pipeline joined forces Wednesday to hold a press conference on Tract 103 where 400 apartments are scheduled to go up, if the Council finally signs off on it. The pipeline has been the most worrisome aspect of the agreement to Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who represents the critical sixth vote. Beall sent an email Wednesday to members of SBCA outlining changes that have been negotiated over the past week. In his message Beall said setbacks from the pipeline were “still under negotiations.” He said the description of setback ordinances given to the SBCA by anti-pipeline consultant Mike Blizzard as 650 feet was “not entirely accurate. Investigation reveals that 650-foot notification and data collection zones have existed since 1970. A nationwide search for setback ordinances has found setbacks of 75 – 100 feet, and setbacks are reduced as the depth of the pipeline increases to 36 inches. The Longhorn Pipeline is buried 96 inches through the Barton Springs Recharge Zone.”

Linda Dailey, executive assistant to Council Member Danny Thomas, said her boss is working on an ordinance that would apply to pipelines on a citywide basis. She said there are numerous pipelines in East Austin and Thomas wanted to strike a balance between protection of those living and working in the area and the need for economic development.

Slusher and Council Member Will Wynn also put out a lengthy analysis of the agreement and rebuttal of opponents’ claims. They wrote: “One important historical fact to note is that for a decade environmentalists, including ourselves, called on Stratus (and Freeport McMoRan before them) to comply with the SOS ordinance. In the proposed agreement they do so except for being allowed to cluster.

“This means development higher than SOS levels is allowed on some tracts while other tracts are preserved in perpetuity—in this case donated to the City and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for permanent protection. City biologists and a number of environmentalists say this approach is at least as good at protecting water quality as the SOS tract by tract method.

“Despite the SOS compliance, with clustering, this proposal still has more development than we would like to see on this land . . . however, the Council does not have the power to simply stop all development on these tracts. The only way to do that is to buy or swap land. The City does not have the money to buy the land. We will both continue to explore swap opportunities although . . . the best opportunity so far was stopped by the leading opponents of the current agreement.”

Friday

Carver Museum contract up today . . . The City Council is looking forward to awarding a $10.3 million contract to the Cadence McShane Corp. today for construction of the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center and Carver Branch Library expansion. After a number of unhappy meetings in which contractors failed to fulfill minimum requirements for hiring minority subcontractors, that aspect of this project now shines. Adana Barry, executive assistant to Mayor Gus Garcia, said Friends of the Carver Museum will be on hand to give a historical perspective, and members of the contracting community will talk about how pleased they are with the minority subs participation: 16.9 percent African-American; 8.4 percent Hispanic; .8 percent Asian/Native American and 8.2 percent women-owned businesses . . . Appointments . . . If they get around to this chore today, the Council could appoint Jean Mather and Frank Ivy to the Historic Landmark Commission. Ivy is not an attorney as In Fact Daily mistakenly reported earlier. The prospective appointee is a building codes consultant who works for Austin Permit Service. He served the City of Austin as a building inspector and Deputy Building Official before retiring into the private sector. Ivy wrote on his application that he has been interested in Austin’s history since high school . . . New courtroom for drug cases . . . Travis County Commissioners will take up the topic of a proposed visiting judge courtroom on August 8th during the Criminal Courts’ budget hearing. The court, which is primarily intended to process drug offenders, is expected to cost somewhere between $518,000 and $905,000. The courtroom would be located in county-leased space on West Ninth Street . . . Mayhem in Travis County . . . The name of Travis County—but not Austin—will appear in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film, set to open in October 2003, will star Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour and be produced by Andrew Form, Brad Fuller and Michael Bay of Bad Boys II and Pearl Harbor fame. The film production company will use Travis County but come up with a fictitious name for the town, per a letter sent to Travis County Commissioners last month . . . New police station security too costly . . . Commissioners consider the security costs for the new Precinct 4 office building to be too steep. A committee proposal tags the price near half a million dollars, which would include manned screening and security guards, but County Judge Sam Biscoe said he’d rather respond to actual security issues rather than anticipate potentially unrealistic threats . . . Candidates agree to fess up. . . After convincing ten candidates seeking statewide office to meet their “disclosure challenge,” members of Campaigns for People are making the same request to local candidates for the Legislature. The group wants candidates to list the occupation and employer of people who contribute $500 or more to their campaigns. Locally, incumbent Reps. Elliott Naishtat, Ann Kitchen, Dawna Dukes and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos have all agreed to provide the information, as have candidates Andrew Pacetti, Patrick Rose, James Sylvester, Eddie Rodriguez and Eric Freeman. State Rep. Rick Green agreed to provide some of the information requested by the group, while candidate Jack Stick declined. State Reps. Terry Keel and Mike Krusee have not responded to the request, nor has State Senate candidate Ben Bentzin.

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

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