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Alvarez has plan to fund MACC

Friday, September 5, 2003 by

Holly Mitigation Fund can be used for Terrazas expansion also

Council Member Raul Alvarez will be announcing his proposal to fund the operation and maintenance of the Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC) and expansion of the Terrazas Branch Library at a press conference this morning. The scenario begins with the $1 million-per-year Holly Mitigation Fund provided by Austin Energy . The fund has been used for various Eastside arts groups, recreation programs and housing rehabilitation in the area around the Holly Power Plant . Alvarez proposes to spend $300,000 per year from the fund for operation and maintenance (O&M) at the two facilities over the next four years. Construction of the facilities was approved by voters and will be funded with bond money. However, such funds cannot be used for operations.

Alvarez pointed out that the mitigation fund money has been earmarked to help a library used by Holly neighborhood residents and the cultural center, which will be at the end of Rainey Street, to be used by those same residents, plus many others. Seventy percent of the mitigation fund—$700,000—would still be available for other projects, he noted. Alvarez said he would be issuing a challenge to the community to raise the final $100,000 the two projects will need.

Asked whether he had the votes to amend the budget to accomplish his goals, Alvarez said, “The Council members I’ve spoken with have expressed favorable opinions about it . . . All along, everyone’s been saying as long as it’s budget neutral, or we’re not going into contingency funds,” they could agree to changes. “The message was if you want to fund something, you have to find the funds in the budget. That’s what I’ve been doing.”

Using the Holly fund money would allow construction on the Terrazas library to proceed right away, instead of waiting two years as City Manager Toby Futrell has proposed. The MACC, a much more expensive project operationally, would be put on hold for one year, but would be under construction earlier than envisioned by Futrell because the O&M money would not be coming from the city’s General Fund. Operating the MACC requires $567,000 per year, but the city will save money by putting off the opening until 2006. In addition to the Holly money, Alvarez proposes using $109,000 the city is saving on construction costs for the library.

Other than the announcement concerning pay raises for firefighters and elimination of the squads and quints proposed by management, the Council has been surprisingly quiet about changes they would like to see in the budget. Mayor Will Wynn, of course, has outlined a broad plan to eliminate city facilities, thus reducing operating costs citywide. However, his proposal has more to do with what he hopes to see in next year’s budget than it relates to the 2004 budget.

Council Members Daryl Slusher, Betty Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken have all indicated that they do not have “wish lists” of items they want to see added to the budget Futrell put forth.

McCracken could be seen as a swing vote since he joined Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, Alvarez and Council Member Danny Thomas in supporting use of part of the firefighters’ two percent premium for social services. He told In Fact Daily, “I’m not opposed to anything that would shift funding priorities,” so long as every proposed expenditure has a corresponding cut.

Thomas said he has heard from a public-spirited citizen who is ready to raise funds to operate the Gus Garcia Recreation Center and is still hopeful that he can find funding to run the Colony Park Recreation Center, which was designed to serve far East Austin. Dunkerley said she too is hoping to raise money for Colony Park, as well as for Pioneer Farms. But she is not looking to the city to provide those funds, she said, rather to businesses in the area. Of Colony Park, she said, “It’s one of the most important city projects in a long time, serving an area with no facilities.” She recited demographics for the area: 52 percent African-American; 39 percent Hispanic; 30 percent single mothers and 40 percent children under 18. The recreation center would not need O&M money until 2005.

Thomas, a former police officer, said he would like to see the current contract between the city and the Austin Police Association continued for a year, with the two percent public safety premium in the bank—to make sure APD officers get a raise next year. Slusher, McCracken, Dunkerley, Alvarez and Wynn have all expressed similar sentiments on the need to put the money into the ending fund balance. Since the police have yet to make a public statement about the raise, that seems a likely scenario.

APA President Mike Sheffield said he believes Futrell has taken the police force raise off the table. The three-year contract between the city and the police is set to expire on September 26, according to Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman. Negotiators for both sides are set to meet at 1pm today to continue talks.

Music network's future in doubt

New manager working on outside funding sources

Major changes are underway at the Austin Music Network. In addition to a new look and new programming schedule, the network has a new focus on cost-cutting and fund-raising as new General Manager Louis Meyer attempts to transform the channel into one that can be self-sustaining.

Meyer has been on the job about two months and has a long history in the Austin music scene, including involvement with both Liberty Lunch and South by Southwest. Viewers of AMN will notice two major programming shifts: the addition of regular hosts, or VJs, and the introduction of regularly scheduled programs. “It’s been very important to me that the station develop unique personalities, both as a station (and) as individuals that the audience can relate to,” he said. Regularly scheduled programs include a newsmagazine show, a children’s show, a Latino show and a rap/ hip-hop show. But that doesn’t mean the network is abandoning Austin artists. “We do 100 percent Texas artists overnight,” said Meyer. “We keep it pretty close to 90 percent Texas artists 24 hours a day.”

Meyer would also like to expand the channel in the near future to cover other areas of the arts such as the ballet, symphony and even film. “We’ve watched the money in town go from the music to the film people over the past ten years . . . that’s OK,” he said. “Now, it’s kind of time for the two to meet in some central point.”

Since taking over management of the network earlier this summer, Meyer has been working to slash expenses and find private-sector donors. “We’ve had to make some pretty severe staff cuts, and will continue to do so . . . especially during the month of September,” Meyer said. The network has attracted sponsorships from local music venues to publicize their upcoming shows, and other businesses have helped by donating materials. There are plans for a major fund-raising campaign this fall that will be familiar to viewers of public television. “It’s kind of a combination telethon-pledge drive,” said Meyer. “We’ve got a lot of auction items and premiums for people who are willing to donate.” Plans call for additional fund-raising drives each quarter.

After spending years in a trailer behind the Threadgill’s north location, the network now has a new home in a city building at the edge of the old Robert Mueller Airport. But next year’s proposed city budget does not include any funding for the network. A complete withdrawal of city funds, Meyer told members of the Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure last week, would be difficult for the network to handle. “It would be impossible for us to go down to zero,” he said. “Possibly, if I had been in place six months ago, and been able to massage the rest of this year’s budget . . . but at this point I only have about two months worth of budget to try to massage.” Meyer took over for interim Manager Jen Garrison, who was brought on board after Woody Roberts voluntarily stepped down from his paid position with the network and reverted to his role as consultant this spring.

Meyer has put in a funding request for $150,000 to allow continued operations while he pursues outside donations. While that would be a decrease of more than 75 percent from the $675,000 the network previously received, it may be difficult for Council members to find in a tight budget year—especially since AMN has been the subject of some harsh public criticism. “I’d like to find a way to keep it alive,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher . “But I don’t want to use any General Fund money. I’m not going to support that coming out of the General Fund or from the utilities or the airport. I think the music network is looking better than it ever has. I think it would be tragic for it to go dark. But I just don’t see it coming out of any of those sources.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who has championed AMN throughout its existence, said she does not want to use General Fund revenue for the channel either. “AMN definitely still needs financial help at this point, and the newer, ever-improving product justifies it, as does the valuable role the station will play in a comprehensive economic development initiative for us in Austin. The potential as a marketing and showcasing medium for this economic base—offering such a strong local boost—is obvious to anyone who looks at it in that context. General Fund dollars are out of the question, but AMN is legitimately eligible for other funds just as other arts and entertainment proposals and endeavors are.” Goodman suggested that the city use part of its bed tax revenue to assist the station.

She said, “That bed tax is levied from visitor nights in our hotel and motels, not from any local property tax or utility rates, and the State allows cities to use a small portion of those funds to further enhance their identity as a destination for visitors, tourists and conventions. Those funds cannot, and shall not be used for any other need in a city's budget.”

AMN began broadcasting on April 4, 1994 for four hours per day from a small studio in the city annex on 2nd Street. The Council voted in February to give the station about $55,000 per month for nine months in the hope that additional private funds could be found during that time to prolong its life. That money will carry the station through the end of October.

Round Rock removed from smoking rule lawsuit

Bar-owner not allowed to interve in VFW suit

The owner of two nightclubs in Austin and Round Rock was denied permission to intervene Thursday in the suit by the Veterans of Foreign Wars against the City of Austin over its no-smoking ordinance. G.M.C. Investments, which owns Ego’s in Austin and The Pub in Round Rock, had sought permission to join in the case to overturn the smoking ordinance.

“It was our goal to have the intervention stricken,” said Robin Sanders, Assistant City Attorney for Austin. “They may, of course, bring another lawsuit on their own. But they are not properly a party to this one already in existence.” While G.M.C. had lost revenues as a result of the municipal regulations, Sanders argued that the new, tougher no-smoking ordinance in Austin has not yet been implemented. “We don’t really know what the impact of this is going to be . . . it’s been discussed a lot and is still being discussed.” The Round Rock ordinance has been in effect since last November. Attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells, representing Round Rock, said they had filed a motion to transfer venue to Williamson County but that motion did not have to be heard after Judge Jeanne Meurer upheld the request from Austin and Dallas to have G.M.C. Investments removed from the case. The judge struck the motion for intervention and effectively took the City of Round Rock out of the lawsuit,” said Boulware-Wells. The City of Dallas had also opposed the intervention of G.M.C. Investments on the grounds that the company did not own any nightclubs in Dallas and was therefore unaffected by that city’s ordinance.

The VFW and American Veterans Department of Texas had included all three cities in their original lawsuit because of similar legal issues regarding the authority of municipalities to regulate tobacco use. However, the three cities passed their own anti-smoking ordinances independently and there are some differences between the statutes. The original suit by the VFW was not affected by the dismissal of G.M.C. Investments and discovery is continuing in that lawsuit.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Police, city to resume negotiations today . . . After breaking off contract conversations last week, negotiators for the city and the Austin Police Association will begin talking again at 1pm today. Both sides decided to halt the negotiation last week after it became apparent that the Austin Chronicle had obtained an internal police memorandum. The leak is the kind of occurrence to derail an already difficult negotiation, since City Manager Toby Futrell has said she would recommend against giving uniformed public safety workers their two-percent pay raise. The raise is part of the contract, along with administrative hiring and promotion flexibility given to Police Chief Stan Knee, the Police Monitor’s Office and most importantly, the Citizen Review Panel. APA President Mike Sheffield said Thursday that city management is pursuing an investigation of the leak in conjunction with District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s Public Integrity Unit. Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman said the city and the DA’s office are looking at both civil and criminal laws to determine what laws may have been violated. “The city has the same interest here as the association. Files that were protected under civil service should remain confidential and it’s in all of our interest to keep them that way.” She said there is no timeline for the negotiations but predicted that they would not be concluded by the time the current contract is set to expire on September 26 . . . Next week . . . The Council is scheduled to meet at 10am on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to vote on the budget. No meeting is scheduled for Thursday, nor on the following Thursday, September 18 . . . No on Proposition 12 . . . Austin attorney Steve Nagle will be the guest speaker at the Public Affairs Forum at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin at 11:30am Sunday. The forum is entitled, “Should Juries or Legislators Set Damage Awards for Personal Injury?” Nagle is a personal injury lawyer and will be discussing arguments against the proposed a constitutional amendment authorizing the state legislature to cap non-economic damage awards both for medical malpractice and for other types of negligence or incompetence that cause injury . . . Lander and Slater to address Rotary Club . . . Bob Lander, CEO of the Austin Visitors and Convention Bureau, and Andy Slater, area vice president for Hilton Hotels Corp ., will discuss Austin as a convention and tourist attraction at the meeting at noon next Tuesday. The lunch meeting is being held at the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center, 13th and Lavaca. Call Nancy McCoy for more information at 462-1333 . . . Preparing for emergencies . . . There’s still time to register for the 2003 Emergency Preparedness Conference taking place next Tuesday at AMD. It’s being co-sponsored by the City of Austin, AMD, Motorola, and the Local Emergency Planning Committee. Information at the day-long event will be geared for local business. “We’ve focused a lot of effort in the last several years on Homeland Security for government agencies, but it’s also become clear…with September 11th and recently with the blackout in the northeast . . . that these types of events have a tremendous impact on businesses,” said Steve Collier, director of Austin’s Office of Emergency Management. “They can have a big economic impact on communities, and a lot of our critical infrastructure that we depend on is operated by private business. It’s in everybody’s best interest to make sure these people have the latest information on how to respond to major emergencies.” Businesses can register by calling Melanie Kinder at 602-4462. More information is available at http://www.co.travis.tx.us/LEPC/conference.asp

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