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Task force wants cost of preservation reconsidered

Monday, September 20, 2004 by

Panel would support higher fee for administration of program

The Historic Preservation Task Force is asking city staff to reevaluate their estimates of the cost of running the city's historic preservation program. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky presented his figures at a task force meeting earlier this week. The panel could use the estimates to recommend an application fee for property owners seeking to have their properties declared historic.

The cost of administering the program is important because city fees are supposed to be set based on the cost of service, and not set arbitrarily in order to raise additional revenue. Figuring in expenses for temporary staff, site visits, postage, phone calls, inspections, and other processing duties for the nearly 300 applications for historic zoning last year, Sadowsky arrived at a cost of approximately $4,500. That would put the application fee in the range of $15.

But most task force members believe Sadowsky underestimated the true costs of administering the program. "That doesn't sound right to me," said Zoning and Platting Commissioner Keith Jackson. Several other task force members urged Sadowsky to go back and search for other costs, or perhaps seek assistance from the City Manager's office in calculating the true cost of service.

In discussions, Commissioners seemed prepared to support a fee in the range of $20 to $25. ZAP Commissioner John Philip Donisi proposed a sliding-scale fee, based on the value of the property in question. A $25 fee would have a greater impact on a homeowner receiving only a small tax break through the historic zoning program, he noted. On the low end of the range for abatements, a handful of properties receive tax breaks of approximately $400. "Proportionately, it's a lot bigger hit," said Donisi, comparing those properties to more expensive homes or commercial properties that can have tax breaks of several thousand dollars. But attorney Jerry Harris argued against a sliding scale, should the city choose to adopt a fee. "A lot of government services have that…deficiency," he said of the disparity pointed out by Donisi.

The panel voted to table the consideration of application fees until its next meeting, at which time Sadowsky is expected to present additional data about the costs associated with the program.

The task force also heard from Preserve Austin’s John Volz, who reiterated his group's call for an economic survey to determine the impact of historic preservation. He also urged the Task force to consider setting a guideline that structures must be at least 50 years old to be considered historic. The federal government, he said, has adopted this rule, used as a standard by other jurisdictions across the country. The current city ordinance uses the 50-year standard, but task force members had recommended a change to 75 years.

Task force members also held a lengthy discussion on economic incentives for rehabilitating properties in local historic districts. The task force will meet again at 5:30pm today.

Commissioners cautious about music network contract

Members of Austin’s Music and Telecommunications Commissions have said they would like to support a plan by Austin Music Partners ( AMP) to take over Channel 15 and run it as a regional music network, but that they but can not approve the contract between the city and AMP as it is currently written.

Last week, commissioners cited a lack of details on money AMP would pay to ACTV to help music network producer Louis Meyers continue music programming on Channel 15 under the auspices of ACTV. They also expressed concerns about the following: “fairness to all cable franchise partners; insufficient financial return for the city; [and] lack of contract review/renewal provisions.” Commissioners indicated that they would compile a more specific list of possible problems and deliver that list to Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Members Raul Alvarez and Betty Dunkerley, who serve on the Council’s telecommunications committee. That committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday.

Commissioners did support the network’s move to ACTV “until another content provider is under contract and ready to broadcast on Ch. 15. This interim arrangement should commence on Oct. 1, 2004, for a period of 3 months, not to exceed 6 months, in a way that maintains the principles and programming procedures of the current access channels, now and in the future.” They also encouraged ACTV and the city to enter into a separate contract on the operation of Channel 15, “to ensure quality of programming and to ensure that ACTV’s status as a PEG provider is not compromised.”

Commissioners held two joint sessions to arrive at their conclusions, but the first meeting was devoted to a public hearing dominated by angry ACTV producers. ( See In Fact Daily, September 13, 2004.) They arrived at a consensus after meeting again last week and then conferring via email.

New group begins meeting tonight . . . Stakeholders and interested citizens are invited to attend the introductory meeting for Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance Revision beginning at 5:30pm tonight. The meeting will be in Room 104 of Waller Creek Center . . . No more whispers? . . If there are no additional whispers in this space it means the editor spent an unexpected night away from the computer. .

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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