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Commissioners to vote on controversial bonds

Tuesday, November 18, 2003 by

School districts, city, county would lose tax revenue

Travis County commissioners delayed a vote on low-interest bonds for the American Housing Foundation (AHF) until today, with County Judge Sam Biscoe saying last week that the vote would be on the agenda “if it is still necessary.” That comment refers to the fact that commissioners would prefer not to vote on an item that has stirred up so much opposition while promising to do good for the community. The company has promised to provide 1,166 affordable units out of a total of 1,555 total units.

The matter is listed on the agenda of the Travis County Housing Finance Corp. County commissioners serve as the finance corporation’s board. The item is scheduled for consideration in the afternoon, following a morning that includes testimony on the county’s opposition to the redistricting proposal.

Amarillo-based American Housing Foundation proposed the purchase of a portfolio of five “affordable” apartment complexes in Austin with $96 million in approved low-interest bonds. That drew a lot of heat from those who would miss out on tax funds: primarily two school districts and Austin Community College. The purchase would take $55 million off the tax rolls.

The AHF decision was delayed an extra week while the county got an opinion from the Texas Education Agency on how much the Austin Independent School District would lose in tax funds. The county had two conflicting figures. The tally ended up being $739,333 for 2003.

In addition, Travis County would lose $257,588; the City of Austin would lose $254,106; Del Valle ISD would miss out on $159,425; and ACC would take in $23,156 less. That’s a total of $1.4 million in tax funds lost if the five complexes are taken off the tax rolls.

The extra week gave AHF a chance to beef up its incentives to the county a second time. Under the proposal, AHF proposes $2.6 million in “positive public benefit.” The laundry list includes a one-time payment of $500,000 to Austin ISD, $1 million in college scholarships over five years, rent reductions and housing scholarship units of $706,057 and a commitment to spend more than $550,000 on replacement/rehabilitation reserves.

Many of those incentives, however, are one-time rather than ongoing incentives. Low-interest bonds could save AHF a total of $1.5 million a year on finance charges. That total would change as the loan is paid down; but on a 30-year loan, it’s likely to be in excess of $30 million for AHF over the life of the bonds.

Those who heard Biscoe’s comment say the political pressures may be more than AHF can handle. Residents of Fairview Village came out in force to oppose the purchase of the properties, along with Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin). AHF admitted it didn’t need the low-interest bonds to complete the purchase of the five apartment complexes.

CAMPO hears pleas from bikers, San Marcos

Cyclists and San Marcos officials filled the auditorium of the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center on the UT campus to make their respective cases for projects eligible for funding under the Transportation Improvement Program and the Surface Transportation Program administered by Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). Cyclists were mobilized by the suggestion that some of the money originally set aside by CAMPO for bicycle and pedestrian projects could be used instead for projects aimed primarily with the goal of reducing air pollution.

Several members of the Austin Cycling Association told CAMPO board members about the positive impact cycling had on air quality and on reducing traffic congestion. “Air quality is a problem,” Robin Stallings of the Texas Bicycle Coalition told In Fact Daily. “Cyclists have known about this and have been talking about it for a long time. We recommend air quality projects that are also bicycle and pedestrian projects.” Other cyclists noted that cycling had increased in Austin by nine percent between 1990 and 2000 as the city had built facilities to accommodate cyclists. “There was a very revealing survey done by CAMPO…30 percent of the respondents said that they would bike to work if there were safe facilities and there were showers. If we make the facilities, they will come. It’s been shown in city after city.” Regular cycling activists Roger Baker and Tommy Eden also spoke at the meeting, as did Preston Tyree with the Community Mobility Institute, along with Bob Farr and B with the Austin Cycling Association. And cycling activist Michael Bluejay is publicizing the cause on his website at http://bicycleaustin.info/action/2003-06-campo-funding.html

The City of San Marcos was also well represented at the meeting. They were there to urge the board to consider allocating funding for an extension of RM 3407 (Wonder World Dr.) Because the east-west major arterial would be over the Edwards Aquifer, the project did not receive high ratings from the CAMPO staff during the evaluation process. However, Mayor Robert Habingreither and other members of the San Marcos City Council told the board that the project had been engineered to prevent environmental damage. That includes features to capture runoff to prevent it from polluting the aquifer and severely limiting access. “All it will be is a road surrounded by hundreds of acres of green space,” City Manager Dan O’Leary told In Fact Daily. That limited access, O’Leary said, was designed to prevent development along the road. Those factors, the San Marcos delegation said, had not been considered when CAMPO gave the project a low rating. The entire San Marcos City Council attended the meeting (and posted official notice of their own meeting as required under state law), as did several other community leaders. That showing of support, said Habingreither, was indicative of the fact that the road is the city’s biggest transportation priority. “It has the potential to take a lot of traffic out of the main part of our town,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a portion of our loop.” CAMPO board members indicated they would seek to have the project reevaluated given the new information.

A total of 28 projects were submitted by Travis County, TxDOT, Austin, Capital Metro, and the surrounding cities for the Metropolitan Mobility funds as part of the Surface Transportation Program. CAMPO has approximately $27 million available in fiscal years 2005, 2006, and 2007 in that program. The 28 projects under consideration total more than seven times the available amount. CAMPO board members will vote next month on which projects to fund.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Lawsuit coming . . . At least one owner of a small Austin business believes that the deal Endeavor made with the City of Austin to give tax breaks to the Domain was not only unfair but also illegal. The city gave Endeavor $25 million in incentives over a 20-year period on May 15. (See In Fact Daily, May 16, 2003.) On June 12, the Council approved a resolution concerning the establishment of an economic development policy and program under Chapter 380 of state may_16_2003.html law. The resolution included some criteria and an evaluation process, which the Council approved in concept, with a direction to City Manager Toby Futrell to return with the details so that the Council could give final approval. Several other matters were addressed in that resolution, including changes to city regulations that make life easier for small businesses—such as parking requirements—have already received preliminary approval. Those are on this week’s Council agenda for second and third reading. However, the details of the incentive program have not come back for approval. In Fact Daily has heard that a lawsuit on that matter is being prepared and could be filed as early as today . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission has a full plate tonight, with the Lowe’s matter before them as well as five historic zoning requests—all recommended by city staff and the Historic Landmark Commission. The commission also has a number of site plans and subdivision cases to consider. They will meet at 6pm in the usual spot, Room 325 of One Texas Center. The RMMA Plan Implementation Committee is scheduled to meet at 6pm as well, at Waller Creek Center. Their agenda includes discussion and possible action on private interim uses of the former airport and a briefing on zoning of the property . . . Ready . . . Council Members Brewster McCracken, Betty Dunkerley and Jackie Goodman are sponsoring an item on this week’s Council agenda to add a non-voting member of the current Historic Landmark Commission to the Historic Preservation Task Force. After a brief discussion about who would be best for the job, the HLC last night unanimously approved Commissioner Laurie Limbacher as its representative. Limbacher tried to talk Commissioner Julie Hooper and Chair Lisa Laky into taking the job, but both declined. Laky agreed to serve as a back-up for Limbacher, however . . . Capital Metro Park and Ride approved . . . Capital Metro’s board of directors voted yesterday to hire Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN) as the architectural and engineering consultant for a new Park & Ride facility on North IH-35. LAN will design and develop construction documents for the North IH-35 Park & Ride at Tech Ridge facility immediately. The contract is for approximately $455,000. The facility will initially have 500 surface parking spaces, in addition to passenger shelters, route information and multiple bus-bay configurations. Construction is slated to begin in November 2004, with an expected completion date of Fall 2005. The board also voted to award Point Venture and Volente up to $34,700 each for regional mobility projects. Funding is part of the Build Greater Austin Suburban Communities program.

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