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Goodman reiterates criticism of Arts Commission

Wednesday, September 11, 2002 by

The Austin City Council took the final votes on the budget for FY 2002-03 on Tuesday, officially setting the property tax rate at 45.97 cents per $100 of property value. Passage of the overall budget and tax rate happened fairly quickly, leaving Council members time to discuss funding for arts groups.

The Council voted unanimously to allocate $2,615,903 for cultural arts contracts, granting all recipients 31.46% less than they had received last year. That across-the-board cut, combined with money from the reserve fund associated with the account, helped restore funding for some artists and groups whose applications had been rejected by the Arts Commission.

Three applicants received special attention from the Council. The African-American Technical Assistance Center, which provides services to arts organizations along with rehearsal and meeting space, will receive funding for a second year. Mayor Gus Garcia said funding for the center would help ensure that arts funding was distributed fairly. “The percentage of the population that is African-American is about ten percent…about two and a half percent of the appropriations were going to African-Americans,” Garcia said. “It's enormously important that across the board we look at those issues for the purposes of equalizing the process and giving the African-American population sufficient funds to be able to increase participation in the arts.”

At the request of Council Member Raul Alvarez, the Council restored some funding to allow for production of ALMA, a Latino music series, on the Austin Music Network. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman also called for funding for a musician whose case she said highlighted some flaws in the current system. She said Bob Livingston's application was rejected after his representative was unable to attend the required interview after it was rescheduled. “His community contributions in music and in culture, especially in regards to children, are very well known and extensively admired,” Goodman said of the former Music Commission chairman.

Goodman again chided the Arts Commission for its outright rejection of some applicants while it recommended funding for others at levels near 100 percent. “Some panelists were obviously not given a good understanding of what it is they were there for,” Goodman said. “Some of them, I think, apparently were led to believe that their role was a critic…with editorial comment as opposed to review.”

Arts Commission Chair Andrea Bryant countered that the commission had done its best to abide by the guidelines set out by the Council, and had attempted to apply the rules equally to all applicants for funding. “It's regrettable that you're not pleased with how we implemented the guidelines you approved,” she said.

But the fact that so many artists and organizations were appealing to the Council after being rejected by the commission, Goodman said, was yet another indication that the system needed an overhaul. “The process that we're looking at for cultural arts funding was originally put in place to try to stop what had become a very politicized cultural arts war in Austin,” said Goodman. “In the last two years…masses of supporters and applicants have come to talk to us, very upset, because of the process that is no longer trustworthy for them.”

And while Goodman said she did not relish the task of setting aside the commission's recommendations, she found it unavoidable. “We do not know every situation that will come up, but we're not living in the basement either,” Goodman said. “We are out in the community. So when people come to us who we know or have seen…and when there's that much of an obvious discrepancy from the year-to-year funding for groups that are critics' choices, we have to do something. The process is broken. It needed to be fixed two years ago, and it's certainly not fixed now.”

County's many needs prompt decision on tax hike

Travis County Commissioners are considering a 2-cent tax increase this fall to underwrite the $302.2 million operating budget the court approved last Friday.

That 2-cent increase does have its cost. According to the public notice the county will post in the Austin American-Statesman this week, the average home owner would pay an extra $95.19 in county taxes, an increase of 15.5 percent over last year.

The noted increase is so great because it incorporates the increased value of the average homestead value. Last year, the average price of a homestead was $171,629. With a tax rate of 44.6 cents, the tax bill came to $612.37.

The value of this year’s average homestead is $189,796. At a tax rate of 46.6 cents, the estimated tax bill will be $707.56. Both figures include the county’s 20 percent homestead exemption but do not include exemptions for senior citizens.

A public hearing on the tax rate is scheduled for Sept. 24. During a brief discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Ron Davis attributed the tax increase to a tough year with plenty of needs, including the increased cost of employee health care benefits and the heavy price of jail overcrowding.

On top of that, transportation is seen as a critical need for the county. Voters have approved bonds for mobility projects and that debt must be paid. “No one likes tax increases,” Davis said, but the county’s needs have made it impossible to avoid.

Budget mark-up occurred over three days last week. Changes are still being incorporated. Some of the increases added to the preliminary $253.7 million budget for county departments include $1.5 million for jail overcrowding; $2.3 million for increased health insurance costs; and $2.7 million for additional compensation. Another $28.9 million, or 11 percent of the budget, is set aside for reserves.

The capital budget for the county – separate from the operating budget – is set at $17 million this year. The budget is intended to cover this year’s construction projects.

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

MIA at the ZAP . . . Last night’s meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission promised to be an interesting one, but Commissioners voted to postpone a fight between the board of the Mexicarte Museum at 4th and Congress and historic preservation advocates. The Historic Landmark Commission has recommended that the Raymond House at 419 Congress be zoned historic, but the museum wants to replace the building. Chair Betty Baker pointed out that there were only six commissioners present and that five would be needed to approve any motion. She recommended that the matter be put off for a week. Commissioners Diana Castañeda and Stacy Dukes Rhone—who was appointed in August—were absent. Dukes Rhone also missed last week’s meeting, which would have been her first. The Council has not appointed the final member of the commission . . . Firefighters endorsements . . . The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters (AAPFF) has endorsed the following candidates in the Nov. 5 General Election: Kirk Watson for Texas Attorney General; State Senator – Gonzalo Barrientos, District 14; Jeff Wentworth, District 25; State Representatives – Donna Dukes, District 46; Terry Keel, District 47; Ann Kitchen, District 48; Elliot Naishtat, District 49; James Sylvester, District 50; Eddie Rodriguez, District 51; Travis County Commissioners – Karen Sonleitner, Precinct 2; Margaret Moore, Precinct 3; Margaret Gomez, Precinct 4.. . . County observance of 9/11 . . . Flags at county buildings will fly at half-mast today. At yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting, County Judge Sam Biscoe encouraged county employees to attend remembrance activities “of their choice” on Wednesday… RMA hearings . . . The first hearing on the proposed Regional Mobility Authority for Travis and Williamson counties is scheduled for Oct. 8 at the Texas Department of Transportation offices on Riverside Drive. On Oct. 9, a meeting is scheduled at the Williamson County Annex Building at 350 Discovery Drive in Cedar Park. Both meetings will begin at 6pm . . . Visioning project . . . More than 300 people have already signed up for Friday’s regional visioning workshop at the Austin Convention Center. The Central Texas Visioning Project has scheduled six more such interactive meetings across the region in October. Meetings are scheduled for the Travis County Expo Center on Oct. 15 and the Burger Center on Oct. 17. For more information, visit their web site: To RSVP, call 916-6037.

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

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