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To increase tax rate by two cents

Wednesday, August 7, 2002 by

Only three new employees would be added under proposal

Travis County’s initial budget presentation for the next fiscal year envisions a 2-cent tax increase for county taxpayers.

Christian Smith, executive director of the Planning and Budget Office, made the presentation at yesterday’s commissioners court meeting. Commissioners will be marking up the budget between now and the date of adoption, Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Public hearings are scheduled for the budget on Aug. 14 and the tax rate on Sept. 18. If commissioners agree to the 2-cent tax hike it will bring the tax rate to 46.6 cents per hundred-dollar valuation. That represents an increase of $92 per year to the average homeowner.

The initial proposed budget is $524.7 million, up approximately $43 million over last year. About $25 million of that total comes from new capital projects. Another $12 million will come from additional debt service obligations. Major funding increases this budget cycle will come from medical care to jail inmates, additional required indigent attorney fees, new computer maintenance and licenses and new health and human service expenditures.

The county is in a “reasonably good financial position” because of the stability of its revenues, Smith told commissioners. He said the dominant themes of the budget would be “restraint, caution and vigilance,” with an eye on balancing the budget. There will be no funding for anything but minimal increases and contractual obligations, Smith said.

Smith acknowledged plenty of needs and wants that would go unfulfilled this budget cycle. County staff made $23.1 million in requests that will not be realized. A total of 219 new full-time employees were requested, but the preliminary budget can fund only three of them. This will likely be a hot topic during the upcoming budget discussions.

The county has already approved an additional $8.8 million in mid-year expenditures. Much of that went to dealing with overcrowding at the county jails.

One of the most difficult challenges will be to address compensation issues. The county has $5.7 million in requested increases but has allotted only $3.7 million in the upcoming budget. That means commissioners will have to scrutinize the compensation sections, line item by line item. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner pointed out that they might need to consider redirecting funds from other areas to cover neglected areas.

Compensation increases this year include a growing contribution to the retirement system because of an aging employee base, along with skills pay increases and cost-of-living increases for retirees. Giving rank-and-file employees a 3 percent increase is estimated to cost $3 million alone.

County budget work sessions begin this week. The schedule of department-by-department expenditures start with criminal courts, civil courts, compensation issues and the county clerk on Thursday; human resources, information telecommunications, facilities management and records management on Friday; and the justice of peace courts, constables, tax assessor-collector, e-filing and district attorney on Monday.

still making

Life miserable for Brooke kids

ZAP recommended zoning change unlikely to stick

Last night, the touchy subject of Tillery Street— home to a warehouse with accompanying 18-wheelers, angry residents, school kids and Brooke Elementary School—once again divided members of the Zoning and Platting Commission. Six of the seven eventually voted for a compromise motion likely to satisfy almost no one. Neighbors of the warehouse at 618 Tillery have been bringing their complaints to the city for several years, requesting that the industrially-zoned property be downzoned to SF-3.

City planner Susan Villarreal told the commission that the nearly 6-acre tract, currently zoned LI like much of the rest of the neighborhood, should be rezoned CS-MU-CO for a possible combination of commercial, retail, office, multi-family and single-family uses. Staff proposed including a conditional use overlay prohibiting trucks from exiting south or entering from the north on Tillery Street. She said those categories are in a proposed Neighborhood Plan for the Govalle area. But neighborhood speakers insisted that the recommendation should be for single-family housing. Members of PODER ( People Organized in Defense of the Earth and her Resources ) complained, as they have in the past, that the staff is running the neighborhood planning process, not the neighborhood.

The City Council approved a resolution to downzone the property and the city has gone through the process three times. The neighborhood is partially SF-3, but there are also many parcels zoned and used by industrial businesses. The Capital Metro terminal sits directly east of the Tillery Street warehouse. Villarreal said the Neighborhood Plan would probably go to the City Council for approval in December or January. She said regardless of what the Zoning and Platting Commission recommended the matter would end up at the Planning Commission in the near future because all the zoning in the neighborhood would be considered at that time.

New Commissioner Melissa Whaley asked, “So we’re here to make a decision that could be changed in the next year?

Chair Betty Baker replied, “Yes, Ms. Whaley, that’s the bureaucratic system.” Neither Tom Calhoon, who owns the warehouse, nor anyone representing him attended last night’s meeting. However, as the owner, he has a valid petition against the rezoning.

There has been considerable disagreement between members of PODER and the city’s neighborhood planners. Last January, Calhoon said, “I sat through meeting after meeting (of neighborhood planning). I wanted to talk about zoning.” Instead, he said, he was subjected to “screaming and yelling” from neighbors who simply want his warehouse to be zoned SF-3 (single-family).” At the time, Calhoon said a change to SF-3 would render the property worthless. ( In Fact Daily, January 12, 2001 .) Because there was so much dissension in the neighborhood, the city temporarily suspended efforts to do a plan for the area.

Josephine Zamarripa, chair of the Brooke School Neighborhood Association, told the commission, “Every day the children have to breathe the fumes from the heavy trucks on the streets,” adding that the property was once used as a slaughterhouse. “How long must East Austin be the dumping ground for all these smells? . . . I used to cool my house, just by opening the windows.”

Commissioner Diana Castañeda made a motion for limited office zoning with a conditional overlay. Baker made a substitute motion to refer the matter to the Planning Commission for inclusion in the Govalle-Johnson Neighborhood Plan. Her motion would have withdrawn the current zoning case from consideration. But she couldn’t get the required five votes. Castañeda and Commissioners Angular Adams and Joseph Martinez dissented, voting instead for Casteñada’s motion, which also failed.

Martinez tried to sway the other four, noting that who was there first—the industrial zoning or the school—is no longer the issue. “Clearly no one wants to make a decision here. Someone has to take a stand and make a statement about what is right; but we do that on every case we decide . . . It looks like this is a case of everyone saying the neighborhood has it tough, but no one’s to blame . . . So I feel an obligation (to make a decision).” He seemed especially offended by the failure of the property owner or his representative to attend the meeting, saying he could not think of another such instance since he has been on the commission.

Baker then made another motion for Warehouse/Limited Office with only permitted GR (general retail) uses and prohibiting a number of uses, including automotive and pawn shops. Although the current zoning allows outdoor storage, Baker said, W/LO does not. Any change in the use would require the owner to come back to the commission for a conditional use permit.

Villarreal said the designation would prohibit numerous uses, but would allow administrative and business offices, arts and crafts studios, communications service facilities, counseling services and a few other uses. Only Adams voted against the recommendation.

Lorenz, Warshaw talking about a new project . . . Downtown developer Perry Lorenz and former mayoral aide Larry Warshaw were at City Hall yesterday speaking with Council Member Raul Alvarez about an affordable condo project they are planning on 6th Street, just East of I-35. Architect Richard de Varga, who designed the project, is the third partner in the venture. The trio hopes that the condos will attract members of Austin’s art, music and movie community . . . Hispanic chamber launches new projects . . . The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has started two new projects that focus on trade with Mexico. The group plans to open three satellite offices this September for businesses that need temporary space to expand into global trade. The chamber also is launching a partnership with Austin Community College to offer international businesses courses that concentrate on Mexico. For more information, contact the chamber at 441-1930 . . . Council work session . . . The Council will continue working on the city’s budget this morning with a briefing on the proposed budget for the Fire, EMS and Police Departments and Municipal Court. They will also hear proposals for Aviation, Convention and Solid Waste Services . . . Travis opposes state fee proposal . . . County commissioners will oppose the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission’s changes to state on-site sewage facility rules. They are joining a Council of Urban Counties’ resolution that opposes increasing charge-back fees to counties that drop local on-site sewage facilities (OSSF) programs. Travis County issues 700 to 800 permits a year . . . No truck lane . . . County commissioners have passed a resolution to ask Austin to support an ordinance to keep trucks out of the left lane on I-35 intended to reduce accidents. The Council is scheduled to consider such a resolution tomorrow. . . . San Antonio speaker appears tonight . . . The Progressive Happy Hour gathering at Opal Divine’ s on 6th Street will feature Enrique Valdivia of San Antonio to talk about the anti-PGA golf course campaign. The campaign gathered 100,000 signatures to force a referendum on whether to allow the Lumbermen’s and the PGA to build a golf course over the southern portion of the Edwards aquifer. The PGA has since dropped out of the plan.

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

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