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Greatest city-county conflict: water quality regulations

Thursday, March 6, 2003 by

Even after a briefing at yesterday’s work session, City Council members were left with unanswered questions about the intent of Senate Bill 544.

To some, its purpose was clearly to dismantle the city of Austin’s ability to govern in its own extra-territorial jurisdiction. The bill rewrites last session’s House Bill 1445 and turns regulation of subdivisions in the ETJ over to counties, unless the county agrees to allow the city to participate. The bill is silent on water quality regulations and existing or proposed HB 1445 agreements. Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) proposed the current bill, as well as the previous legislation approved in 2001.

That was enough to worry Council members. In a briefing that also included an update on the Austin-Travis County HB 1445 agreement, a team led by Environmental Officer Patrick Murphy and Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd outlined the city’s issues with SB 544.

As of yesterday’s work session, city legislative liaison John Hrncir had yet to reach Wentworth to discuss the intent of his bill. He did, however, discuss the bill’s implications with the Texas Municipal League and the Real Estate Council of Austin. Feedback from homebuilders led Hrncir to believe that amendments addressing the concerns of homebuilders could amend the bill or make Wentworth’s bill go away altogether.

Senate Bill 544 puts conditions on “co-jurisdiction” of subdivisions in the ETJ. The county would regulate subdivisions unless the city and county agree that the city may regulate streets, drainage and utilities. Also, the city must agree to maintain streets and drainage that it regulates, even though the city cannot collect taxes in those areas. Under the bill, the city cannot adopt standards for ETJ streets and drainage that exceed in-city standards.

Asked whether SB 544 would impact other cities, Hrncir said it would affect Fort Worth and San Antonio. The bill would have little or no impact on Dallas, because Dallas has very little extra-territorial jurisdiction. Houston and Harris County would have no issue with the bill either, because the city and county legislation already track each other. A county representative, in fact, sits on the Houston planning commission.

Because of the complexity of Austin’s regulations—especially regarding water quality—the city is a particular target of the legislation, Hrncir said. Lloyd said his understanding was that HB 544 was not intended to nullify existing water quality regulations, but that gave Council members little comfort. Council Member Daryl Slusher said the lack of language addressing that matter put the legislative intent in question.

Even if the county encouraged the city to enforce water quality regulations, it still presents problems, Murphy said. A developer could present a subdivision plat to the county, the county could approve and record that plat, and then the city would be forced to follow behind the county to enforce the water regulations with no input into the design process. Enforcement would happen after the fact, and with very little input on preventative measures, Murphy said.

Despite Senate Bill 873 last session, which gave counties some of the same authority as cities, counties are still limited in what they can do to address water quality issues. The chapter quoted in Senate Bill 873 applies to subdivision regulations and not water quality issues, Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols told Council members.

“If the intent of this legislation is to resolve conflicts between city and county regulations, I have to say I see (water quality) as a huge conflict if we don’t get it resolved,” Murphy said.

Two names surface as favorites

Renovation of the fifth floor of Brackenridge into the city’s New City Hospital is underway and on schedule, health officials reported at a City Council Health Care Subcommittee meeting this week.

The Council approved creation of the hospital last October, and the hospital remains on schedule this July. Trish Young, CEO of the city’s Community Care Services Department, described the team assisting with the start-up and ongoing operations and the board appointed to oversee the hospital.

Elaine Carroll will serve as the hospital administrator, assisted by a team that includes Debra Hedges, Glen Roberts and Ginger Baker. The board, as outlined by ordinance last October, was to include a health care professional with hospital experience, a member with experience in reproductive services, the chief executive officer of the city’s Community Care Services Department, one member of the Federally Qualified Health Center Board and the medical director of the hospital.

All board seats, with the exception of the hospital’s medical director, have been filled. Board members will include Deborah Hopps, Hal Katz, Glenda Parks, Gloria Leal, Mary Lou Adams and Young.

The city will spend $9.3 million to renovate the fifth floor of Brackenridge for reproductive services. The split will be $6.8 million from the city and $2.5 million from Seton. The city’s portion will be paid by reduction of Seton’s lease payments.

The Health Care Subcommittee also discussed a name for the hospital. It was the subcommittee and staff’s preference not to name the hospital after a person, because of the need to distinguish the area and notify people about its services. The two names the subcommittee will submit to the Council are Austin Women’s Hospital and Austin Auxiliary Women’s Hospital. Those names are likely to be submitted to the full Council for consideration in April, Young said.

Given the prominent people in the community who are or were committed to women’s reproductive health, subcommittee members were still interested in naming portions of the hospital after people. Names submitted for consideration—and preferred by the subcommittee—included Betty Himmelblau, Carl Siegenthaler and the late Venola Schmidt. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman asked that Chief of Staff Mike McDonald look at funding, and see if there was any available Art in Public Places monies that could be used to honor the long-time community volunteers.

In other health care news, Young also told subcommittee members the city was on schedule for emergency clinic facilities. Young’s department is currently reviewing the design of a clinical model and looking at real estate. The next step will be the creation of a federal model. Young told committee members it is still her intention to seek federal grant funding to support the site. A full plan should be presented to the Health Care Subcommittee sometime this summer.

Wednesday, Thursday,


Fast Track . . . Federal Judge Harry Hudspeth has agreed to hear mayoral candidate Marc Katz’ request to overturn Austin’s $100 limit for campaign contributions next Thursday. Mike McKetta, attorney for Katz, said the case would be heard at the federal building at 9th and San Jacinto at 8:30 am. If Katz wins the first round, it would apparently eliminate the contribution cap for the May election. . . PTA to protest . . . The City Council will hear a request for waiver of the ordinance governing liquor sales in proximity to schools at 6 pm tonight. The owners of property at 2105 South Congress, where the Shamrock station—which has closed—sold alcohol, would like to open a convenience store and resume sale of beer and wine. Parents from the nearby Fulmore Middle School have indicated they would oppose the waiver, even though the 7-11 Store next door also sells those beverages. The hearing is set for 6 pm . . . Other hearings. . . The Council will also conduct public hearings for full purpose annexation of approximately 45 acres east of Brodie Lane, 15 acres in Williamson County south of Avery Ranch Blvd., and the Dittmar tract, about 1 acre east of Brodie and William Cannon. . . The Council will also hold a hearing to receive comments on the transfer of about half a million dollars in community development block grant funds from rental programs to homeowner rehabilitation programs. Next week is Spring Break and the Council will not meet. In Fact Daily will not publish next Thursday or Friday . . Chamber to honor Lebermann. . .The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has named Lowell Lebermann Austinite of the Year. He will be honored at the group’s annual meeting tonight at the Renaissance Austin Hotel. Lebermann is currently vice-chair of the campaign to create a county-wide health care district in Travis County and has been involved in numerous other civic and cultural organizations. He is also vice-chair of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Lebermann joins a list that includes Mayor Kirk Watson, Mort and Angela Topfer, George and Ronya Kozmetsky, and Michael and Susan Dell as Austinite of the Year. . . Press Conference cancelled. . . The Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce have cancelled a press conference scheduled for this afternoon to announce support for continuation of the Export Certification Program, also known as the Manifiestos Program . . . Thomas draws an opponent . . . Robert ‘Wes’ Benedict Jr. has named himself as campaign treasurer in documents filed with the city for a spot on the ballot in the Place 6 race. The only other person in the race is incumbent Danny Thomas. Steven Ray Swanson has filed an application for a ballot spot for Place 5, the seat that Will Wynn is vacating . . . Meltzer party tonight . . . Mayoral candidate Brad Meltzer will kick off

his campaign with a party beginning at 6:30pm tonight at the Broken Spoke, 3201 South Lamar. Music will be provided by Chaparral with Jeff Hughes. The candidate will address supporters around 7:20pm and be available for media questions after that.

© 2003 In Fact

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