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Thursday, May 22, 2003 by

Council responds positively to moving Children's hospital

Officials with the Seton Healthcare Network made their case to a receptive Austin City Council on Wednesday about the benefits of moving Children’s Hospital from its current site next to Brackenridge to a new campus at the old Robert Mueller Airport. According to information presented by Seton and outside financial consultants, the move is practically a necessity for Seton and will allow an increase in charity care offered by the network.

The lynchpin of the argument to build a new facility is that the current location of Children’s Hospital does not provide enough room to meet the rapidly growing demand in the area. “If the City of Austin and Seton do not choose to move forward with expanding children’s services, a competitor will . . . which will in the long run have a negative impact on Children’s Hospital, Brackenridge Hospital, the Seton Healthcare Network and most likely on the level of care and charity that’s provided for the community,” said Dan Majka of the consulting firm Kaufman Hall.

As part of its lease agreement with the city to operate Brackenridge Hospital, Seton is responsible for charity care. Keeping Seton financially sound will allow that to continue. “Over the first seven years of operation of the new facility, the estimated net improvement to the charity care provided to the community was approximately $54 million,” said Majka. The arrangement also won support from local doctors. “We’ve got a partnership here that works as far as providing health care to all children, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Dr. Robert Schlechter. When other firms develop facilities to compete with Seton, they will likely draw away paying customers first—leaving Seton responsible for handling charity care and procedures with lower profit margins. An analysis provided by Kurt Salmon Associates shows the region can support only one institution providing the promise of “leading” children’s services, and that the best option would be to have one larger facility rather than several smaller ones.

Schlechter stressed that current demand for services at Children’s Hospital is straining the hospital’s resources. “We’ve had surgeries canceled because of lack of care, we’ve had patients stacked up in the emergency room because of lack of care,” he said. “We are in a crisis mode as far as children’s health care goes.” A failure to keep services consolidated at one facility, other doctors told the Council, would be detrimental. “We will fracture the pediatric care into differing levels of quality and availability,” said Dr. Karen Teel. “We need what Seton is proposing and we need it now.”

Moving Children’s Hospital to another location would also free up space at Brackenridge for expansion. “Space in the Brackenridge campus is very limited,” said Dr. Pat Crocker, Medical Director of Emergency Services at Brackenridge. “The emergency department and many of the other bed spaces are very cramped. That’s not only being fueled by population growth, it’s being fueled by a change in the utilization rate of emergency services. The impact of that by the year 2007 will be a shortage of about 50 beds in the emergency department.”

While the proposed new location of Children’s Hospital on the former site of Robert Mueller Airport has been a source of some controversy, both Jim Walker of the RMMA Advisory Commission and Greg Weaver of Catellus Development told Council members that it was consistent with the master plan for the area. That plan includes providing space for a major employer. A children’s hospital would provide approximately 1,000 jobs across a broad range of salaries, with some of the employees likely living in the surrounding neighborhood. While Walker and Weaver did recognize that there could be some traffic concerns, Walker predicted those concerns could be resolved with continued community input.

Council members appeared enthusiastic about the concept, although they posed some questions about the specifics of the deal. “It appears to me that we’ve worked out an agreement that’s going to benefit the community overall, that’s going to benefit the children who need medical care and the indigent who need medical care,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. Council Member Will Wynn praised the doctors at Children’s Hospital and Brackenridge for their diligence in pushing the concept forward. “This involves a real estate decision, but the real issues are medical,” said Wynn. “It’s the medical community that is driving the ultimate decision to amend the lease to do what’s best for the health care of the people of this community, particularly children.”

Since allowing Seton to relocate Children’s Hospital to Mueller would involve a change in the lease that Seton has to operate Brackenridge, the city is using the opportunity to propose several other changes to that lease. Those include requesting additional financial information from Seton regarding Brackenridge and Children’s Hospitals, extending the term of the lease, requiring Seton to spend at least $50 million on capital improvements at Brackenridge over a 20-year period and increasing the penalty for any breach of the contract by either party. The proposed amendments, including a provision related to the proposed Central Texas Healthcare District, will likely be posted on the city’s web site in the near future.

The Council is scheduled for another work session on the subject on June 4th, and the lease amendments will be posted for a public hearing and possible action on June 5th. The item will also be on the June 12th Council agenda.

LCRA's Joe Beal joins Heiligenstein in request

Leaders from the Lower Colorado River Authority and Williamson County are in Washington, DC today in support of a bill to give Williamson County a leg up on water reclamation efforts.

LCRA General Manager Joe Beal and Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein will present testimony before a House Resources’ subcommittee to urge support of House Resolution 1732. The legislation, co-sponsored by US Reps John Carter (R-Round Rock) and Chet Edwards (D-Waco) would enable Williamson County to apply for a grant from the Bureau of Reclamation within the Department of the Interior.

“I’ve been in Williamson County for more than 25 years, and our philosophy as long as I’ve served on the Round Rock City Council and the Williamson County Commissioners Court is that water is more precious than gold in Williamson County,” Heiligenstein said. “We’re talking about an area so committed to water that we built a pipeline all the way to Belton to provide us with a water supply.”

That 50-mile pipeline, at a cost of $40 million to the City of Round Rock, connects Belton’s Stillhouse Hollow Lake to Lake Georgetown . City officials contracted with the Brazos River Authority for the water in 1986, holding onto those rights until the water was needed last year. From Lake Georgetown, raw water is pumped and treated for use in Round Rock and the surrounding area. Round Rock and Williamson County also rely on groundwater.

Regional planning has indicated that the population in Williamson County is growing so fast that the need for water will exceed the supply by 2017, Heiligenstein said. Reclaiming some of the area’s water for reuse may be the county’s only logical next step. Under HR 1732, Williamson County would be eligible to apply for a grant from the Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau provides grants for a quarter of a reclamation project’s cost. In Williamson County’s case, that’s a little more than $7.25 million.

The LCRA would serve as a partner in the project. In his testimony before the House committee, Heiligenstein plans to say it is the high initial cost of water reclamation that has stopped the county from more widespread use of reused water. Efforts to begin water reclamation in Austin were launched as early as 1990, but it took 10 years for the city to plan and complete construction of transmission lines.

Reclamation is an important and viable step for Williamson County, Heiligenstein said. The county’s regional park alone uses 200,000 gallons of treated drinking water a day. Area golf courses are estimated to use anywhere between 600,000 and 1 million gallons of water for irrigation each day.

Williamson County’s population is expected to grow to 750,000 by 2025. A study partially funded by the Texas Water Development Board indicated that alternatives to meet long-term water needs could include the construction of a new reservoir on the Little River, the development of ground water in an area 50 to 75 miles east of the county or the inter-basin transfer of additional surface water rights.

University neighbors trying to preserve residential neighborhood

The Historic Landmark Commission closed two cases last night, giving the North University Neighborhood Association two victories on standing zoning cases.

In the first case, a split HLC voted to recommend historic zoning on a duplex at 305 E. 38th Street, stopping the removal of a bungalow from the site. In the second case, a unanimous commission agreed to a two-story addition behind the Herbert Studer House at 303 E. 38th Street, rather than the owner’s request to remove the structure.

Developer David Rodewald wants to remove the bungalow at 305 E. 38th Street, known as the Edna Reed House, in order to build a larger home on the lot. Neighbor Mary Engle argued that NUNA was “losing our neighborhood one house at a time.” A hearing on the bungalow was delayed from last month’s meeting by the developer.

Rodewald said he was not, as the neighbors had claimed, a “predator developer” or a “developer of super-duplexes.” He said he had moved more than 200 homes from their original lots during his career, often making cases before the HLC. He intended to move the existing bungalow from the lot in order to put “the appropriate home” on the lot.

Neighbors said 38th is the street that bridges the Hyde Park and North University neighborhoods, giving continuity to the neighborhood. In a rebuttal, Rodewald countered that the street was far from architecturally intact and presented a series of pictures that showed the additions and changes made to homes on the street. Most of the property had been on and off the market and continued to be rental property, Rodewald said.

Commissioners were split on the historical value of the property, and a motion by Commissioner Julia Bunton to delay the process failed for lack of a second.

An initial motion to deny historic zoning, made by Commissioner Patti Hall and seconded by Frank Ivy, failed. A motion to zone the property historic, made by Chair Lisa Laky and seconded by Jean Mather, was supported by commissioners Laky, Mather, Bunton, David West and Teresa Rabago. Commissioners Hall, Ivy and new Commissioner Julie Hooper voted against the motion. Commissioner Jim Fowler was absent from the meeting.

Members of the commission had some confusion over whether the motion would stand because the final vote on historic zoning came after a 60-day window. Rodewald asked for the delay, which might have stopped the clock on the decision. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky will seek a legal opinion on the issue.

In a second case, homeowners Susan and Paul Glover presented revised plans for their property at 303 E. 38th Street. The structure is a 1926 wood-frame house with Craftsman–style details, converted for duplex use. HLC recommended historic zoning on the property in April—in part, to avoid construction of what the neighborhood described as a “super-duplex.”

The HLC recommendation for historic zoning will go to the Zoning and Platting Commission in June. Last night, the Glovers asked for a Certificate of Appropriateness on a 2-story addition behind the existing house, a house Susan Glover had described as “seriously dilapidated.” The addition will mirror some of the details of the house.

Neighbors offered support for the addition plans, which Sadowsky described as no higher than the roofline of the house and a structure that would be hidden from the view of the road. Rick Iverson, president of NUNA, offered support for the addition, although neighbors still questioned the exact square footage of the addition.

Sadowsky will have to approve the final plans for the addition, which will have wooden windows and sashes that mirror the original house, as well as hardi-plank siding. The back of the house will be removed to assist in the addition.

Tuesday ,,

Friday.

Health care bill healthy . . . The prognosis on the Austin-Travis County health care district remains good. Lawmakers close to Senate Bill 1796 say it could be moved out of Calendars and to the House floor in the next few days. Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin) has taken the lead on the House side to get the bill passed . . . Early voting continues today . . . Wednesday’s turnout was 1137, with the largest number of early voters casting ballots at the Travis County Courthouse . The courthouse hosted 154 voters and Northcross Mall workers helped 150 voters record their choices. One-hundred twenty-eight voters took advantage of the polling place at Randall’s on Research and 91 voted at the South Congress HEB. The total number includes 41 mail ballots and 60 at three mobile voting locations. The mobile voting booths will be at Brackenridge Hospital, Seton Southwest and Seton Central Hospital today from 11am to 4pm. On Friday, the mobile polling places will be at Westminster Manor at 4100 Jackson, the Conley-Guererro Activity Center, and Brighton Gardens at 4401 Spicewood Springs Road from 10am to 2pm. Early voting will NOT be available this weekend because of the Memorial Day Holiday, but will resume next Tuesday . . . Tug of war . . . Last night as volunteers with the Margot Clarke Campaign got ready for a party honoring their Place 5 candidate, they were dismayed to see workers from opponent Brewster McCracken’s campaign putting up a large sign in the yard next door. In Fact Daily asked campaign manager Matt Curtis, who was installing the sign, why they had picked that location on Live Oak Street in the heart of Clarke territory. He said the owner of the house had recently requested one. Party-goers vowed they would work even harder for Clarke after viewing the sign . . . McCracken party tonight . . . Former Mayor Kirk Watson will be an honored supporter at the get-out-the-vote rally and party for Brewster McCracken from 5:30-8pm today at B.D. Riley’s Pub, 204 E. 6th Street . . . Kinetics CEO headlines Economic Development forum . . . David Shimmon, CEO of Kinetics, which makes semiconductor instruments, will headline the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Forum beginning at 7:30am today at the Four Seasons Hotel. Shimmon’s corporation is headquartered in Santa Clara, CA and has 300 Austin employees. He will discuss the impact of the economy on the semiconductor industry, manufacturing semiconductors and the role of government in the technology industry . . . Hays development rules could change . . . HB1197, which has been approved by the House and is awaiting Senate approval, would retroactively validate agreements entered into between a municipality—such as Dripping Springs—and a landowner, such as Cypress Realty . The Friendship Alliance and the Save Our Springs Alliance have sued Dripping Springs to stop implementation of the agreements, which authorize the building of 2700 homes over the aquifer recharge zone and 1600 homes in the contributing zone, according to SOSA. The two groups are asking supporters to contact Senators to oppose the legislation. That may be a hard sell, however, since Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) also represents much of Hays County and carried the companion legislation in the Senate . . . Good news, bad news . . . A new report from the Trust for Public Lands ranks the parks systems in 55 cities across the country. Austin gets high marks for the private-sector support of parks, especially for the large number of donations and partnerships. But the TPL says Austin could do more to make parks more accessible to people with disabilities and fee-based programs more accessible to those who are unable to pay. Council Member Will Wynn joined the group to release the report at the Austin History Center . . . It could be worse . . . The latest sales tax figures from the State Comptroller's Office show another drop for Austin. The figures released this month are for sales taxes collected in March. In Austin, sales tax revenues were down 1.34percent from the same period last year. That compares to an 8 percent decline for Houston. Revenues for Dallas and San Antonio were relatively flat. So far, Austin's sales tax revenues this year are down 6.41 percent That's part of a state-wide trend. State Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn last week said state-wide sales tax figures were down for the tenth month in a row, which she called “unprecedented.”

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights

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