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Camp cites budget shortfall as reason

Monday, May 19, 2003 by

By Bob Ochoa

Facing a projected $200,000 budget shortfall, board members of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) have fired two district employees, including the general manager, Floyd Marsh. Also let go was a staff environmental analyst.

“The terminations were without cause and primarily budgetary,” explained BSEACD Board President Jim Camp, after a three-to-one vote of the board last Thursday night making the separations official. “The board looked at all the employees . . . we did a thorough analysis of staff and workloads and programs and came to the decision that these two were the positions we could eliminate and still carry on the day-to-day functions of the district.”

The board moved to replace Marsh with Veva McCaig as interim general manager, and increased her salary to $68,000. She has served as the district’s water resource planner the past two years.

“She (McCaig) will be able to step in with knowledge of all the issues with the staff, the science we do, the permittee issues,” said Camp. “We’re able to move her into this position with a lot of enthusiasm, and she’ll basically do two jobs, that of general manager and resource planning. Instead of paying $125,000 in base salaries for the two (terminated) employees, we’re going to pay out $68,000 . . . we’re going to get double the work for less money.” Board Member Craig Smith said, “I didn’t agree with the board majority that (Marsh) hadn’t done a satisfactory job. But I did concur with hiring Veva McCaig as acting general manager.”

Camp said the board will look at other savings at its next regularly scheduled meeting this week, including possibly eliminating health care coverage of dependents of the district’s remaining 12 employees.

Abundant rainfall last year and through the spring this year has resulted in less groundwater pumpage from district permittees. That has meant less revenue to the district and in some cases will result in significant credits, or rebates, being passed back to large user-permit holders.

“Most of our permittees pay in advance for the groundwater (they expect to use). Because people pumped less water, we’re having to give back some of the conservation credits,” Camp said. The City of Buda, for example, is expected to receive a credit of up to 50 million gallons of unused groundwater.

District officials apparently have been concerned with a significant and looming budget deficit for some time, and have now begun to grapple with the oncoming crunch. According to Camp, the district’s accountant warned of a possible $200,000 revenue shortfall by the end of the current fiscal year.

“It’s a combination of things: fewer grants, and last year was a rainy year so people pumped less water,” Camp said. “A dry summer will help our budget, but that alone will not help balance our budget. We’ve had to figure out a way to deal with the budget issue and that meant cutting spending. The only way we could see for significant savings was eliminating positions and cutting back on our health care cost . . . more in line with what’s happening in the private sector and other government entities.”

Along with the savings realized from eliminating the two staff positions, Camp said the board is eyeing possible additional savings of around $62,000 through cuts in health care coverage of district employees and trimming expenses in some district programs. “We think we can get to the $200,000 in savings,” he said.

What of predictions of a rainfall deficit this summer and a possible drought? “We’ve been listening to the expert meteorologists who are saying it could be a very dry summer,” says Camp. “We’re starting to get the word out about saving water, landscaping with mulches, watering every five days and conserving the water. We have a lot of cooperation with our small cities and permittees and they’re talking to their customers, all working towards the idea it could be a very dry summer. Let’s not wait to June or July to start thinking smartly about water.”

Urban plan goes northeast

The Zoning and Platting Commission has endorsed changing the zoning classification for a lot at Loyola Lane and Johnny Morris Road in Northeast Austin. The zoning change recommended by the ZAP would allow the development of a mixture of residential and retail uses on the lot.

Consultant Sarah Crocker told commissioners that the plans call for residential units to be constructed above first-floor retail. That design is reminiscent of the efforts to promote density in the city’s urban core through the use of mixed-use zoning. “This is not an urban area, but this is something my client has looked at and would like to do at this location,” she said. “The apartment market is rather soft, and their whole idea is that this area does need some good neighborhood retail. We have a lot of neat and cool projects that are proposed for the urban core . . . and that doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t work somewhere else.”

While Crocker had initially requested zonings of CS-MU and MF-3 for the tracts in question, commissioners instead approved GR- MU-CO and MF3-CO. The commission stipulated that the only GR use allowed would be for a general restaurant and mandated that at least 35 percent of the site would be made up of non-residential uses. Some of those restrictions will have to be established through a restrictive covenant.

Configuration of lot meant variances required for building

The Board of Adjustment last week approved a series of variances to allow construction of a new house near the shore of Lake Austin. The project will require variances to the rules limiting impervious cover and setting minimum setbacks from the shoreline. The owners of an existing house at 1446 Rockcliff are seeking to demolish the structure, which was built before the area was annexed into the city limits, and build a new one.

Board members decided that the unusual location and configuration of the lot made the variances necessary. Although the lot consists of more than 7 acres, much of the lot is unsuited to development because of a lagoon that extends into the lot. “Because of the way the staff is now interpreting the shoreline of Lake Austin, they make us come in and take a 75-foot setback all the way around the lagoon . . . so what we basically end up with here is practically zero net site area,” said agent Sarah Crocker. “There is virtually no way for this lot to be redeveloped . . . having to completely redo the septic system, having to completely redo the driveway . . . everything that’s going to be required to build this without exceeding the impervious cover that’s set forth in the code today.”

Board Member Frank Fuentes moved to grant the variances, agreeing with Crocker that the amount of the lot covered by water created an undue hardship. The vote to grant the variances was 5-0.

Hospital district bill . . . The bill that would allow Travis County voters to decide whether to form a hospital district, SB 1796, has moved through the Senate and through a House committee. It now sits in the House Calendars Committee, where it can be set for a vote or left to languish. This is one In Fact Daily will be watching throughout the week to see whether the Republican leadership sticks to Speaker Tom Craddick’s promise that there would be no retaliation against Democrats who killed the redistricting bill . . . Naishtat talks about Ardmore . . . Wearing a t-shirt emblazoned “Remember Ardmore,” Austin’s central city Rep. Elliott Naishtat addressed a happy and invigorated group of Democrats at Constable Bruce Elfant’s Ice Cream Social yesterday. He told the crowd. “Our first goal was not to get caught. Our second goal was to kill the redistricting bill and our third goal was to energize the nation.” Naishtat said the now-famous Holiday Inn in Ardmore, OK had only one fax line, but on that one line the 51 rebellious Democrats received thousands of congratulatory messages from all over the country. Some came from as far away as Great Britain and Chile. Attendees at Elfant’s party included both candidates in the City Council Place 5 runoff, Margot Clarke and Brewster McCracken . . . HB1204 scheduled for hearing . . . The bill that would require cities such as Austin and San Antonio to go into binding arbitration with the counties in which they hold extra-territorial jurisdiction if they fail to agree on subdivision rules is set for a hearing on Tuesday. Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Travis County) and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who represents portions of both San Antonio and Austin, are the sponsors. Wentworth sponsored the prior legislation that Travis County and Austin have struggled to comply with over the past two years. The hearing is set for 8am Tuesday in the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee. Austin, as well as other cities and the Texas Municipal League, oppose the bill, while builders and developers generally support it . . . HLC meets tonight . . . The city’s Historic Landmark Commission will be considering whether to initiate historic zoning on a house on East 38th Street, as well as an application to allow an addition to a historic structure next door to it. The area has attracted a lot of attention recently since the Council has been asked to prevent demolition of an A&P Grocery owned by the Hyde Park Baptist Church on the grounds that it should be preserved as a historic structure. Last week, the Council postponed action on that item (See In Fact Daily, May 16, 2003) . . . Correcting the record—sort of . . . The Austin American-Statesman, which began its sensationalist and frequently inaccurate coverage of chemical levels in Barton Springs Pool has finally made a few admissions on that score, but those admissions were hidden on page E4 of yesterday’s paper. Managing Editor Fred Zipp wrote, “We stand by our stories.” However, Zipp acknowledged, “We should have taken a different approach to the question of the contamination source.” The newspaper insisted for months that the source, which turned out to be a common product used to seal parking lots, was buried hazardous waste from a coal gasification plant. Zipp writes, “We should have limited discussion to a secondary story and put it inside the A section rather than on the front page.” Zipp also notes that the EPA soil safety threshold for BAPs (benzo(a)pyrene) was used “in an imprecise manner.” In the story, however, the managing editor takes some pains to disagree with Council Member Daryl Slusher, who has written scathing reports on the situation and the Statesman’s coverage, accusing Slusher of setting up a straw man—the Statesman’s continued implications that the pool and creek were unsafe for swimming—in order to knock it down. Slusher says, “If I was knocking down a straw man, it was one created by the American-Statesman.” Slusher intends to respond more completely in writing to the editorial.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights

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