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Commissioners looking at size of raises for employees

Thursday, July 8, 2004 by

Next week they will know amount available for performance pay

As part of this year’s budget, is proposing to reorganize departments that handle land development services in an effort to save money,

Travis County Commissioners are committed to a raise for county employees this year, the first for the county's rank-and-file in three years.

The county's preliminary budget should be filed on July 28, with budget hearings starting on August 11 and running through much of the month. One of the first commitments the court has made is to give employees a raise of between 3 and 5 percent.

Christian Smith, head of the county's Planning and Budget Office, has told county officials they will have a modest 1 percent net increase in the county's tax base. Existing commercial property values have dropped and residential property values have remained flat, but the county has also added an additional $2 billion in new construction.

County officials are likely to try to keep the county's tax rate at close to the effective tax rate. The effective tax rate is the rate needed to generate the same amount of funds as last year given current property values. The current tax rate is 49.1 cents. The expected tax rate, with additional revenue-generating projects expected for the county, has been set at 50.4 cents. The difference would mean an extra $18.82 on the value of an average homestead valued at $191,240.

Commissioners will know next week how much money will be available for performance pay. County Judge Sam Biscoe said pay increases would be presented to county department heads in lump sums. A basic increase will be provided for all employees, then additional funds would be presented to individual employees in performance pay.

If the county maintains the effective tax rate, an employee pay increase will mean cuts from other departments to cover it. Biscoe says it is a matter of priorities. This year, an employee pay increase is the priority, a pay increase that may be paid, in part, by any growth that is seen in future county revenue projections.

The biggest wild card in the county budget process is the health care district, Biscoe said. The county must carve out what it spends on health care, which would be the amount budgeted last year, plus the $500,000 mid-year increase transferred to cover department shortfalls. Beyond that, commissioners must decide whether they can afford to spend "a little bit more" for cost increases and possible additional services.

"We know that health care will cost more next year," Biscoe said. "We just don't know how much more. It wouldn't be fair to budget just what we spent last year, knowing that health care is probably going to cost a little bit more than that next year."

That's a one-year expenditure for Travis County because the Central Texas Health Care District will be setting its own tax rate in the coming year. Once the district’s board of directors approves the budget, it will go to the Commissioners Court for approval.

The department with the biggest price tag is the Sheriff's Office. The county continues to monitor capacity at the jail. Since arrests are normally at their highest rate in July and August, officials are aware that they may need to transfer some inmates to jails in other counties—with the accompanying additional costs. The capacity of the Travis County Jail is about 2,300. Current inmate numbers are fluctuating between 2,275 and 2,325. If the numbers exceed 2,300 inmates for a number of days, excess inmates can be transferred to jails in other counties.

More worries for homeowners of Lick Creek subdivision

Residents want county to enforce restrictions

Residents of the problem-plagued Lick Creek Ranch subdivision on the Pedernales River are getting used to being known as "that Lick Creek" when they come to Travis County Commissioners with their complaints and requests.

Inspectors from the county and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) shut down work on the West Cypress Hills subdivision for a second time after finding yet another environmental problem on Tuesday. According to published reports, workers at the West Cypress subdivision were putting dirty stormwater into Lick Creek, further polluting it.

Also Tuesday, the Lick Creek Ranch issue for commissioners was the subdivision of a 13-acre lot on Outback Trail into six lots. Employees of Travis County’s Transportation and Natural Resources division intended to grant the subdivision application but reconsidered the application after receiving additional information. That means it will be at least another two weeks before commissioners make a final decision.

At least a dozen residents from Lick Creek Ranch spoke to commissioners, asking them to enforce the subdivision's convenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) on land that once was known as the Pedernales Canyon Ranch subdivision. But as is typically the case, the problem wasn't as simple as enforcing CC&Rs.

The CC&Rs state that any lots facing the Pedernales River must have “a 100-foot minimum width in any direction.”. However, the language makes it unclear whether that means 100 feet in each direction or 100 feet on only one side. In a memo to Commissioner Court, TNR Executive Director Joe Gieselman noted that at least 16 properties in Lick Creek Ranch Phase I do not meet a 100-foot minimum width in every direction, according to appraisal district information. Property was subdivided through metes-and-bounds conveyance, rather than subdivision platting. Most, if not all, of the subdivisions were approved in a routine fashion by the county, according to the memo written by Gieselman.

A second area of difficulty was road frontage. All lots are required to have frontage to a public street of acceptable standards that is either maintained by the property owner or accepted by the county. When the subdivision was platted in 1970, however, the roadways were dedicated as private easements with no agreement for the homeowner association to maintain the streets. Most of the streets are gravel roadways and are far from meeting county design standards.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the county had agreed to subdivide other lots in the subdivision into even smaller parcels but under a different set of standards.

County officials also had a question about whether the current infrastructure could support the six additional lots. The lots would be served by individual water wells and onsite septic systems. Because the lots are adjacent to the Pedernales River, however, the LCRA has jurisdiction in the case and will have to sign off on the Travis County plat in order to permit the system.

Commissioners will consider the subdivision two or three weeks from now. Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols said he needed to review some of the paperwork and brief the commissioners in executive session on issues. Next week, commissioners will interview the finalists for the Central Texas Health Care District's board of directors.

Commissioners face deadline today . . . Today is the deadline for each member of the Commissioners Court to submit 10 preferred names for the county's nominees to the Central Texas Health Care District. County Judge Sam Biscoe will cull the list to the final preferred list of 10. Those candidates will interview with the full Commissioners Court next Tuesday. The interviews will be open to the public, but they will not be broadcast on the county television channel. Commissioners will go into executive session to cut the list to the final four, Biscoe said . . . Increase in May passenger traffic at ABIA . . . Total passenger traffic was up 6.73 percent at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for May, the most recent month available. Southwest and American Airlines saw the largest increases, with eight and seven percent respectively. America West Airlines, Continental, Frontier, Northwest and United all saw increased activity as well. Only Delta suffered a decrease. Air cargo has been down 3 percent since last May, but international cargo was down much more, at 48 percent. Air services and aircraft operations were also down from the previous year . . . ACC welcomes Del Valle today . . . Austin Community College will hold an open house from 6 to 8pm tonight at the ACC Riverside Campus, 1020 Grove Blvd, to welcome Del Valle residents into the district. A petition drive by college supporters in Del Valle placed the option of joining the district on the May ballot. As a result of the positive vote, Del Valle residents will pay property taxes to ACC and will save $1500 per year as full-time ACC students . . . Gay lobbyist to speak . . . Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, will speak in Austin next Sunday, July 18 at 3:45, at the LCRA on Lake Austin Blvd. Angela Keeton, KOOP radio host, will introduce Ellis, who is a guest of the Travis County Libertarian Party’s distinguished speaker series. For more information call 512-467-1776.

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