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HB2877 dies in House on point of order

Friday, May 30, 2003 by

Representatives of the City of Austin are still carefully watching one bill that could have far-reaching implications for the city’s authority to annex land and to work with neighboring jurisdictions in land use matters. A second bill that city lobbyists believed threatened city authority to enforce the SOS Ordinance has died as the result of a point of order.

HB2877, by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) and Senator Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria) appeared to eliminate the city’s water quality ordinances and put the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in charge of all such regulations. Armbrister added some amendments while the bill was in the Senate so it was necessary for the bill to return to the House for concurrence or for the bill to go to conference committee. City officials and environmentalists were worried about the bill, although Armbrister promised to add language in the conference committee that would make clear his goal was to prevent groundwater districts—not cities—from enacting water quality rules. (See In Fact Daily May 29, 2003 ; May 28, 2003 )

The city’s chief legislative representative, John Hrncir, told In Fact Daily last night that he was confident that HB2877 would not re-emerge this session. Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) raised a point of order that killed the bill when it returned to the House yesterday.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) and Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Austin) are the sponsors of HB1204, which is still causing concern, Hrncir said. The bill is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that would force the city to use the CAMPO road plan—rather than the city’s plan—when dealing with developers seeking subdivision approval in the ETJ. It would also retroactively give Lowe’s Home Improvement Co. permission to build a new store in the Sunset Valley area. Any land in the ETJ released by a city would have to be swapped with another city or else it would come under county authority. Hrncir said the type of change would prevent the city from releasing ETJ in the future.

The bill also says newly annexed area comes into the city zoned single-family. Austin generally zones new land DR for development reserve, setting zoning questions aside for a future date. This legislation began as an effort to get Austin and Travis County to finish negotiations and finalize an agreement on common subdivision regulations for property in the ETJ and the county. The roadway plan has been a major sticking point between the two jurisdictions.

Sunset Valley, Austin and Lowe’s are all involved in a lawsuit over the site and which regulations should be applied to its development. The land is over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

Baxter’s office has promised that he will ask for the bill to be sent to conference committee, according to consultant Mike Blizzard, who represents Sunset Valley.

Hard reality of shrinking funds and huge public safety costs

On Wednesday, News8 Austin presented candidates Brewster McCracken and Margot Clarke with a surprise budget-cutting exercise this week, inviting them separately to the TV station and filming their reactions to the problem. Those reactions did not tell viewers exactly how the candidates would react to real budget problems, but it did provide an opportunity for the two to go “off message,” which campaign managers hate and the media loves.

The exercise consisted of handing each candidate 85 one-dollar bills and asking them to allocate the money into stacks representing city departments and services. News8 reporter Paul Brown told Clarke and McCracken exactly what the city says on its web site: that the city will only have $85 during the next Fiscal Year for every $100 it is currently spending. Public safety—including police, fire and EMS—takes up two-thirds of the budget. So if there are no cuts in any of those areas, $66.67 will be spent on that sector. The total spent on health and human services is a comparatively low $15.17. More than half of that pays for health care for low-income citizens. Environmental programs cost twenty-six cents and the cultural arts forty-two cents. The city spends only $1.65 on traffic lights and intersection improvements. McCracken has said on numerous occasions that those should be improved.

McCracken refused to do the exercise, saying “thousands of staff hours” go into the budget process and then “the Council has months to review it,” adding that, “When we reform the way the city does business the piles will look different.” He told In Fact Daily that he felt the station had ambushed him and his opponent, but he appeared to take the matter without rancor.

Clarke, who was also amiable, pointed out that the public safety portion, now in excess $66 was only $54 in the recent past. “So clearly that has gone up….we did have a doubling of police overtime after 9-11.” She said “a higher level of accountability would be good for the city. And I do know that people are concerned about public safety, but . . . we can’t just be about public safety.” She took $1 from the public safety pile and moved it over to Code Enforcement, explaining that enforcing such regulations leads to better public safety in the end. The station apparently did not require her to go through the entire exercise.

Although he would not play the News8 game, McCracken told interviewer Paul Brown he wants to look at existing city facilities to see if all of them are necessary. As an example, he said, “We may find two fire stations close together,” but added “It’s really premature to say.”

McCracken has said on other occasions that he would not to cut money from health and human services. “During the Depression, the government actually increased health services,” he said. He said now is not the time to cut back on those things. McCracken has said in several forums, and again on TV that he does not think it is a good time for a tax increase.

In Fact Daily asked whether he would be willing to consider raising the effective tax rate—the amount the city needs to raise the same amount of money as it had last year when property values were higher—McCracken said, “Everything is on the table including raising the effective tax rate…it is a possibility that we will have to consider.” Clarke has avoided saying she opposes a tax increase and has stressed the need to conserve city resources. Both candidates expressed a great deal of confidence in City Manager Toby Futrell to guide the city’s budget process.

Latest early vote totals . . . By the close of business yesterday, 8,140 voters had cast ballots to decide whether Margot Clarke or Brewster McCracken should sit in Place 5 on the City Council for the next three years. That figure compares favorably with the 10,262 voters who had registered their preferences eight days before the May 3 election. The original early vote period was 13 days, but that period was shortened to 11 days for this election because of the Memorial Day weekend. Also, Assistant City Clerk Rosemary Ibarra points out that eight locations at Austin Community College campuses used during the first round of voting are not being utilized this time, but eliminating those locations has had little impact. The fixed polling location attracting the most voters continues to be Northcross Mall. Yesterday, the mobile voting booths at three state office buildings recorded the preferences of 300 voters—bringing to 708 the two-day total at the state buildings. St. David’s Hospital, Seton Northwest and the North Austin Medical Center will host mobile voting booths and poll workers today. On Saturday, those mobile stations will be at BookPeople, Home Depot North and Home Depot on Brodie Lane. Tuesday is the final day to vote early . . . June 7 precinct locations moved . . . Precinct 337 will vote at 6507 Jester Blvd, Building 5, Suite 505A. Precincts 257 and 232 will both vote at the Covenant United Methodist Church, 4410 Duval Road. Precinct 410 will vote at Pleasant Hill Elementary, 6405 Circle S Road . . . Businesses encourage employees to vote . . . Members of the Real Estate Council of Austin were happy with the response on Thursday to their effort to boost turnout during early voting. “We had sent out an email invitation to over 3,000 to come vote,” said RECA President Tim Taylor. “The basic idea was ‘get your employees out to vote.’ Give them the time off.” Two bus-loads of voters arrived at the Travis County Courthouse just before 4pm, and Taylor said they had heard from several major employers that were also giving their employees time off to vote in the runoff election for Place 5 on the Austin City Council . . . Energy talk offered Sunday . . . Peter Altman, director of the SEED Coalition (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development), will be the guest speaker at the Public Affairs Forum at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin on Sunday at 11:30am His speech is entitled Plugging Austin into Cleaner Energy. Austin has the most successful Green Power program of any utility in the country. The SEED Coalition encourages reducing pollution from power plants, refineries and cars and promoting clean energy jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other advanced technologies . . . Highlighting WWII love stories . . . The Hero Productions Team i s developing a TV series highlighting the romantic relationships between World War II military personnel and their loved ones back at home. They are currently collecting stories of the ‘everyday’ heroes during WWII—the many men and women who kept their love and commitment intact despite the hardships of war. Those wishing to share stories can contact the company at contact@heroproductions.com or via mail at The Reunion Project, c/o Hero Productions, PMB 286 3807-GH South Peoria, Tulsa OK 74105

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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