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Multi-county hospital district gets some attention too

Thursday, October 17, 2002 by

The lines were clearly drawn at yesterday’s candidate forum at the Metropolitan Breakfast Club: incumbents defended their records and challengers denounced Travis County government as either out of control or in need of serious change.

Wednesday’s forum featured the candidates for Commissioner Precincts 2 and 3, currently represented by Democrats Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Moore. Sonleitner spoke of her eight years of service, and Moore stressed her “two tours of duty” as an interim commissioner after serving a term as county attorney. Moore was appointed last December when Todd Baxter left to run for the redrawn House District 48 seat.

Sonleitner said the theme of her campaign is “regional, regional, regional” in addressing issues such as transportation, clean air, the environment and medical services. Moore said she was proud of her record on the Commissioners’ Court and spoke of her leadership on regional transportation issues. She stressed her ability to “hit the ground running” to address county problems.

Republican Gerald Daugherty, who is challenging Moore, described himself as a non-politician candidate willing to “walk the walk and talk the talk.” Daugherty said he was ready to bring zero-based budgeting to the county and work to divert half of Capital Metro’s sales tax revenue to transportation projects. Sheri Perry Gallo, Sonleitner’s opponent, said the eight years of Sonleitner’s term on court had been nothing but runaway taxes, wasteful spending and increasing debt.

The addition of $3.1 billion to the county’s tax rolls “was more than enough to pay for our bonds,” Gallo said. The county’s 2-cent tax increase this year was simply a problem of “over-budgeting.” Gallo went on to say the current county bond issue, passed by voters last November, is already behind schedule and buried in the county bureaucracy. She also accused Sonleitner of trying to pass a resolution at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization back in 2000 that all but killed the State Highway 130 project.

Sonleitner strongly denied Gallo’s allegations, saying the resolution she tried to pass was a delay intended to gather the support of local neighborhoods on the SH 130 project and was joined by representatives of both Austin and Travis County. She added that she had done nothing to jeopardize the project.

Gallo praised Williamson County for having the foresight to put a bond issue for $350 million in road projects before the voters, but Sonleitner said Williamson County had busted the rollback rate after passing the bond issue. Sonleitner noted that a taxpayer in Williamson County would pay more than a taxpayer in Travis County on a $150,000 house this year.

Questions from the audience covered ground that has been trod before at county forums: how to deal with rising tax bills; how to handle Austin’s gridlock; whether it’s time for a hospital district; and what each candidate would do to address the area’s transportation needs.

Asked about taxes, Daugherty and Gallo stressed a willingness to make the hard calls on cutting county government waste. Moore defended county spending, saying she never got any calls saying too many deputies were patrolling a neighborhood or too many roads were being paved. During the budget hearings, Commissioners’ Court was willing to say no to things like a pay increase for correctional officers, and it had cost Moore her endorsement from the union.

“That’s the price you pay when you say ‘no,’ but it’s also important to say ‘yes,’ and when we say it, we’re going to have to pay for it,” Moore told the audience.

Sonleitner pointed out that during her eight years on the court, the county’s tax rate had dropped from 55 cents to 46 cents per hundred-dollar valuation. She also mentioned the homestead exemptions offered by the county. Gallo countered with the charge that while the rate may be going down, the tax bills continue to rise for county taxpayers.

All the candidates stressed a willingness to consider a multi-county hospital district, if approved by voters. Daugherty was lukewarm on the issue, saying the last taxing entity he voted on was Capital Metro back on 1985. Daugherty said he was going to be a “pretty hard sell on creating a taxing authority.” He added that he would consider a hospital district only if it were subject to voter review every eight years, covered more than one county and lowered county and city taxes by a comparable amount.

While Sonleitner and Moore stressed the new partnerships such as the Regional Mobility Authority and commuter rail districts as ways to contend with the area’s road needs, Daugherty and Gallo did not think the county had gone far enough. Sonleitner spoke of an eight-year track record of supporting regional mobility projects, but Gallo countered that the only progress she had seen had came in the last year, at the insistence of county voters, not Commissioners’ Court.

Moore spoke of the RMA as a way to “take the county to a whole new level” on transportation projects, while Daugherty said the county had promised transportation improvements for the last 25 years and “got nowhere.” Daugherty said he supported the concept of the RMA, but that there is only one pot of gold for road projects and that’s the Capital Metro tax. “We cannot continue to bond ourselves,” he said.

Early voting begins on Saturday. The election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

ZAP Chair resists historic

Zoning for expensive property

Baker says city losing too much in deferred taxes for historic homes

Chair Betty Baker pulled a historic zoning case on a Tarrytown house last night, questioning whether a structure built in 1938 should be considered for historic zoning by the Zoning and Platting Commission.

Owners Rebecca and Stanley Mark Powell requested historic zoning on the house, which is located on just over an acre on Tarry Trail. The appraised value on the property, known as the Gatewood House, is $1.8 million. If it were zoned historic, deferred taxes on the property would amount to $26,540 a year.

Baker, who asked that the item be pulled and delayed, said the house was initially built on 20 acres of land off Exposition Boulevard in 1938. She told her fellow commissioners she had a strong suspicion that many of the 20 structures in the immediate neighborhood were built around the same time and would qualify for the same historic zoning. And while Baker had no problem voting to zone the Scarbrough, Norwood and Littlefield buildings as historic, she hesitated on the Gatewood House.

This zoning change could cost the city real money, Baker said. The ZAP agreed to delay the case for one week. The item had been scheduled to go to the City Council on Nov. 7.

“I want the staff to survey that entire area and tell me—with the relaxed considerations for historic zoning—how many of those structures would qualify for historic zoning,” said Baker, adding that she considered the 50-year mark to be rather generous for considering historic designation.

“That’s the date set by the state and federal government, but the state and federal governments don’t offer tax exemptions,” Baker said. “More than 50 percent of the property on our tax rolls is exempt. This is a nice home—it’s a beautiful home—but there are thousands and thousands of beautiful homes in Austin.”

The city’s eroding tax base worries Baker. She said she was very concerned the ZAP might consider giving a tax exemption “to an almost luxurious situation.”

When Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin interrupted to try to clarify the age of the houses on the street, Baker cut her off. Outside the meeting, Stocklin said the Gatewood House is not just any Tudor style house; according to an assessment by city staff, it is one of the best examples of work by well-known Austin architect Edwin Kreissle. Kreissle designed more than 5,000 homes in Austin, as well as fire stations, churches and stores.

Original owners William and Eloise Gatewood were well known in Austin for donating land to the Westminster Presbyterian Church and Austin State School . Gatewood, a local retailer, opened the first hamburger stand in the city at the corner of Guadalupe and 21st Street, according to Stocklin. He later owned three university textbook stores, the first of which was opened in 1919.

Many residences in Tarrytown are in the Tudor Revival style, Stocklin noted. But the Historic Landmark Commission considers the Gatewood House distinctive by virtue of meeting 6 of 13 objective historic landmark criteria, including the embodiment of a particular architecture type and the identification of the house with a historic city leader.

No matter how many Tudor style houses exist in Austin, Stocklin said, the Gatewood House is an outstanding example of its kind..

Fox and Hound to add party room

The Board of Adjustment voted this week to allow the operators of Fox and Hound Smokehouse and Tavern at 401 Guadalupe to remodel a 2,185 square-foot accessory building without expanding the parking lot. The site already has 25 parking spaces. The accessory building will be used for private parties. The historic building has been in the Warehouse district for more than 70 years, and housed the popular Austin landmark, Waterloo Brewing Company for eight years. Rising rent prices pushed the locally owned Waterloo out of the building last year, and the nation-wide chain, Fox and Hound, has occupied it since this summer.

The motion easily won approval from the board since it is the one of the few buildings in the popular entertainment area that has a parking lot. Many who frequent the area’s bars, including the Fox and Hound, use metered parking spots on the street during the evening. The building is also close to several state-owned surface parking lots and garages. Consultant Sarah Crocker represented the applicant. There was no opposition to the variance.

, Tuesday,

Wednesday, Thursday,

Friday.

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

Bentzin responds . . . Yesterday In Fact Daily reported that Senator Gonzalo Barrientos’ campaign would file an ethics violation against opponent Ben Bentzin for failing to file documents showing who supplied the Republican with a loan of $100,000. Bentzin’s campaign manager, Justin Unruh, said Wednesday that he had filed an amended report, showing that Bentzin had made the loan to himself. He said the failure to file was simply “an administrative oversight.” . . . Donna Campbell to retire from City of Austin . . . Most citizens may not have heard of Donna Campbell, but she has been taking care of members of Austin’s City Counci l for more than 20 years. Her title, Dispatch Services Supervisor, does not do justice to the services she has provided to the Council and Austin citizens over the years. Campbell has made a habit of helping people, even changing an occasional tire for city workers finding a flat in the parking garage. She is also the person who sits outside in summer heat or windy weather to make sure that Council members and their assistants always find a place to park. She will retire at the end of next week, and plans to move to Virginia to play nanny to a relative’s children for a year. After that, she will settle down at her favorite vacation spot in Colorado . . . FDIC, Bradley to continue discussion . . . Developer Gary Bradley’s bankruptcy case will continue for at least another 60 days. The time will allow the FDIC to pursue its investigation into Bradley’s assets. Bradley’s attorney announced in federal bankruptcy court on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement with the FDIC to hold off on discharging the developer’s $73 million dollar debt . . . Commissioner Place 4 . . . There has been little coverage of the race between incumbent Commissioner Margaret Gomez and her Republican challenger, Mike Hanson. Hanson, who is identified around the courthouse as one of the “black helicopter people,” has little chance of unseating his Democratic rival in a largely Democratic and Hispanic district. The one thing that differentiates Hanson from all of the other candidates running for local offices this year is summed up by this message from Hanson: “I want to thank—most of all—God. I’m not a professional politician and it’s clear to me that these professional politicians are selling our children’s freedom down the drain.” Hanson made the remarks during a forum held by the Real Estate Council of Austin.

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

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