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Vote on hospital or health care district more than a year off

Wednesday, August 28, 2002 by

Ajoint city-county commission on a possible hospital/health care district for Travis County intends to present a rough draft of legislation for next session at its steering committee meeting on Sept. 4.

City of Austin Community Care Services Department Director Trish Young updated the Council Healthcare Committee, headed by Council Member Betty Dunkerley, at a meeting yesterday afternoon. Young said the commission has already broken up into a number of subcommittees to address different aspects of the hospital/health district model. A referendum on the hospital/health care district is planned to go before voters in November 2003.

Judge Guy Herman’s petition, which was put on hold in deference to the city-county committee, proposed a model for a health care district under Chapter 281 of the State Health Code. Chapter 281 creates hospital districts under county oversight. If Travis County voters pass Herman’s proposal, the Travis County Commissioners Court would create the hospital district and commissioners would appoint the hospital’s board of directors.

City officials were not very enthusiastic about the prospect of being forced to turn Brackenridge Hospital over to the county under the proposed hospital district.

Legal and legislative subcommittee members took a broader approach by referencing Chapter 286 instead of Chapter 281. That chapter would give the City of Austin and Travis County the flexibility to create a hospital/health care district together, with the option of adding adjoining counties. Governance would be shared among the participating entities.

The subcommittee’s legislation would mirror much of Chapter 286, but it would also give the participating governments the ability to appoint, rather than elect, hospital/health care district board members, Young said.

The Healthcare Committee’s recommendation was to weight a possible 9-member committee toward either the area with the highest population or the area with the biggest financial contribution. Council Member Raul Alvarez recommended a 4-3-2 split, with the 4 weighted to the City of Austin. Although there wasn’t a great deal of discussion on the topic, Council Members Alvarez, Dunkerley, Danny Thomas and Jackie Goodman agreed that the representation should be more heavily weighted toward the city. Dunkerley pointed out that the city contributes $50 million to indigent health care each year, compared to the county’s $6 million.

Other subcommittees for the joint city-county commission are working on a financial model for the district and its impact on local tax rates, a strategy for educating the public on the pros and cons of the district and a model for governance for the potential hospital district, Young said.

The Healthcare subcommittee also heard the impassioned testimony of midwifery supporters, who want to see the alternative birthing method returned to Brackenridge. Midwifery was once an option at both Seton and Brackenridge, but the program was discontinued because a local doctors group ended its sponsorship of nurse/midwives. It was not part of the negotiated agreement for services at Brackenridge, Young told committee members. Young said the midwifery option would be considered by the commission but might actually come down to a decision of “health care economics.”

Young recommended that a subcommittee of the Federally Qualified Health Care Committee and health officials govern the New City Hospital on the fifth floor of Brackenridge. FQHC members, Young said, are the most familiar with the needs of city clinics. The Healthcare committee had no objections. The board would provide direction for both financial and administrative operations and review quality reports, Young said. The New City Hospital, a hospital-within-a-hospital, would open next July.

In tandem with the New City Hospital, the city is moving on the establishment of an urgent care center, needed to relieve some of the pressure on the emergency room at Brackenridge. Young is currently working on a feasibility analysis on the venture.

Thomas' attempt to add ARA, AHFC rejected

The Austin City Council will reach out to the other entities with taxing authority in Travis Count y in an attempt to convert some foreclosed properties into affordable housing. The Council passed a resolution last week authorizing staff to work out an interlocal agreement with other government agencies to participate in a Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce program called “Project American Dream.”

It is hoped the program will provide a positive use for vacant properties with extensive back taxes. Normally, most properties seized by a city, county or school district are sold at auction on the courthouse steps. However, a small number of properties each year fail to sell for the minimum bid required to pay off the delinquent tax bill. Under the proposed program, those taxing entities that are owed the money could agree to sell the properties at a token price of one dollar to a non-profit Community Housing Development Organization so homes could be built on those lots.

“The purpose of this program is to get families into homes,” said Sandy Hentges, director of public policy for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. She also advised Council members that the proposal was still in the preliminary stages, and additional negotiations with other taxing entities would be required. “We’re not looking for any specifics to be developed here, because we feel it’s very important that everybody with an interest in this program be in the room at the same time to discuss this issue. There are many questions that will come up and we’ve been taking note of those and answering them as we can.” Some of those questions may concern the involvement of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce in the program, as well as the private sector. Council Member Danny Thoma s told In Fact Daily he wanted to make sure the program was not abused. “It’s a good resolution, but I want to make sure we’re doing everything possible to help the ones that own the land,” Thomas said. “Some are elderly people or people who don’t know they own the land.”

The item was sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Members Raul Alvarez and Betty Dunkerley. Thomas pulled the item for discussion and when it came up asked City Clerk Shirley Brown to read the deletions and additions he had given her into the resolution. The resolution’s sponsors were caught off-guard since they did not have copies of the proposed amendments, including specific language directing the Austin Housing Finance Corp. to receive or acquire the properties. Thomas also attempted to convince fellow Council members that their resolution should specifically establish that the Austin Revitalization Authority be involved in the process, but other Council members were uncomfortable at requiring that without consulting the other taxing entities.

Alvarez. “I really do think that needs to be something that’s agreed upon by all the different parties.”

Mary Ann Neely of the LCRA was volunteer chair of the chamber committee that put the plan together. She told In Fact Daily, “What we’re trying to do is begin the process of negotiations with all the taxing jurisdictions, without limiting specifics from any one of the entities that might not allow us to get the end result that we want.” The Council endorsed the resolution 6-1, with Thomas dissenting. “I’ve seen gentrification, and it’s real in East Austin,” Thomas said, reiterating his concern that the program could be misapplied without specific guidelines mandating supervision by the AHFC. “There are people losing their homes because of what gentrification has already done in East Austin.” Of the approximately 40 lots that would be eligible for the program, city housing officials estimate fewer than 15 per year would actually be appropriate for housing. The other lots may not be of adequate size, or are located within the flood plain. Council Member Jackie Goodman stressed that unless the lots are turned over for affordable housing they could remain vacant permanently. “This is like the last call for these particular lots because no one wants them,” Goodman said. “They’re not worth putting a bid in for them. They’re lost in legal limbo. None of them have houses on them, none of them have people living in them, none of them have identified owners.” Negotiating an agreement with other relevant governmental bodies to participate in the program could take several months. Any agreement would have to come back to the Council for final approval.

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

Planning Commission officers . . . The Planning Commission got up early to have an extra meeting yesterday, in part to elect new officers. Lydia Ortiz is the new commission chair; Chris Riley will serve as vice- chair and Maggie Armstrong as secretary. Dave Sullivan will continue as parliamentarian and Cynthia Medlin will continue to serve as assistant secretary . . . Bubbas invited . . . Bubbettes too. The Gourds are playing a benefit concert for the Stacy Park project tonight from 6 to 8 pm in Little Stacy Park. The neighborhood hopes to raise $17,000 by early October to improve the park and build playground improvements . . . BSEACD meeting Thursday. . .The aquifer district board of directors is scheduled to meet at 6 pm Thursday to consider a pumpage permit for the City of Kyle . They will also consider appointment of a technical advisory group for the Stratus Properties proposal. . . . Raises postponed . . . Travis County Commissioners approved the 3 percent or less raises for elected county officials with the caveat that the new salaries will not go into effect until April 1, 2003. No one spoke, either way, at yesterday’s scheduled public hearing on elected officials’ salaries . . . M/WBE recommendations . . . The M/WBE City Council subcommittee— Council Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas, minus Council Member Betty Dunkerley—yesterday agreed with the trade associations and the M/WBE advisory commission that the Construction Manager-At-Risk be the preferred method for construction of the new City Hall. Staff recommended the Competitive Sealed Bid method, saying the other method would add 13 weeks to the process. The Council will hear a briefing this morning and vote on a recommendation on Thursday . . . Safe Routes to School Projects . . . The new Safe Routes to School Program, administered by the Texas Dept. of Transportation, will disburse $3 million to pay for crosswalks, bike lanes, sidewalks and other safety features. The projects are being awarded on a competitive basis. Applications must be submitted by the municipal or county government to the TxDOT District Office by December 6, 2002, although anyone can initiate the application process. For more information, log on at . . . New Executive Director named . . . The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission announced yesterday the appointment of attorney Margaret Hoffman as Executive Director. Hoffman, previously serving as the agency’s deputy director for legal services, replaces Jeff Saitas, who recently announced his resignation. Hoffman has been with TNRCC since 1994 . . . Also an activist . . . Commissioner Michael Dahmus of the Urban Transportation Commission wrote to let us know that he is a bicycle activist. He voted against a consultant’s proposal for Shoal Creek Blvd., which we described in Tuesday’s In Fact Daily . Dahmus feels so strongly about Shoal Creek as a bicycle pathway that he has set up a Web site on the matter. You can find his thoughts at . . . Planning Commission agenda . . . Members of the Planning Commission are scheduled to hear a presentation tonight on the ex officio members of that body. According to Article 10 of the City Charter, those include the City Manager and the President of the AISD Board of Trustees. Having a school district representative on the commission would be one way for the city and school district to work together on issues such as the location of new school buildings. Council Member Daryl Slusher told School Board Trustee John Fitzpatrick on a recent episode of the Daryl Slusher Show that important progress had been made in the realm of inter-governmental co-operation. “That could have been done better in the past, and it could be done better in the future . . . but we’ve had some good examples lately,” Slusher said. “Hopefully we can have more cooperation, not only on planning and siting,” Fitzpatrick agreed.

© 2002 In Fact News,

Inc. All rights reserved.


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