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AFSCME seeks 7 percent raise

Wednesday, July 27, 2005 by

Futrell says proposal would jeopardize APA contract

Leaders of the union representing city employees are asking the City Council to grant them a pay raise that City Manager Toby Futrell says would jeopardize the contract between the city and the Austin Police Association.

Members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 624 have been visiting with Council members to brief them on their proposal, which includes:

• Implementing a 5 percent market adjustment across the board for all non-public safety classifications effective October 1, 2005.

• Funding a 2 percent pay for performance increase for all employees who meet expectations (which is the vast majority) also effective October 1.

• Making pay adjustments resulting from putting a $10 per hour floor on city salaries, effective April 1, 2006.

• Effective June 1, 2006, giving non-public safety employees who use a second language at work a bilingual stipend based on the same criteria and the amount paid to police officers under their contract. This would primarily affect Municipal Court and health care workers, according to Carol Guthrie of AFSCME. However, she did not know the cost or the number of workers that would be involved.

Futrell has proposed a 3.5 percent pay for performance increase and a 2 percent bonus for all non-public safety employees. That bonus is a one-time only sum, in response to two years without pay raises. Futrell and APA President Mike Sheffield agree that the bonus does not affect the police contract.

But Futrell said the union plan would not work because, "anything you give across the board in base is going to have to be added by police in their contract.” She pointed to a section of the APA contract which says, "The Association may terminate this agreement with ninety (90) calendar days written notification during any year in which the City establishes ‘market study based compensation’ increases and does not establish base percentage increases for non-civil service City of Austin employees.”

The point of that contract provision, Futrell explained, was to make sure that uniformed police officers would receive 2 percent above whatever was given to other city employees across the board. “Their fear was we would just call it something else," she said. Sheffield said he agrees with that interpretation of the contract.

"We believe we’re going to get 2 percent above meets expectations and meets expectations was what we understood would be used (to raise salaries generally) and if they did a general market study and raised their pay, that would trigger that part,” of the contract, said Sheffield.

Vickie Schubert, deputy chief financial officer for the City of Austin, told In Fact Daily that the proposed 2005-06 budget includes about $25.5 million in pay for performance, living wage, market adjustment and lump sum payments to city employees. Schubert said that total includes $11.42 million for pay for performance–including such benefits as retirement and Social Security payments where applicable. It also includes $6.86 million for the proposed 2 percent lump- sum, one-time payment to all non-public safety employees. Raises for public safety employees are projected to cost an additional $11.3 million, she said.

Jack Kirfman, political director for AFSCME, said the union is asking for the market adjustment because “it will help more people that way. Everybody will get at least 5 percent except for the executives” who have already received a raise. But Kirfman said he was not faulting Futrell for those raises.

This is not the first time that AFSCME has floated the idea of a 5 percent across the board market adjustment for employees. The first time In Fact Daily reported on the matter, Futrell said she would not be able to grant a permanent market adjustment because of the APA contract.

AFSCME disagrees with Futrell and Sheffield's interpretation of the contract, with Guthrie saying, "The police have a very rich contract. Why they would want to cancel it, I don’t know . . . Why would you give up what you already have? As far as I'm concerned, (the city) gave away the kitchen sink—on the backs of all the other employees.”

According to Guthrie's numbers, the union proposal would cost $23.8 million plus an unknown amount for the bilingual stipend.

Interim subdivision rules approved

Travis County Commissioners passed interim water quality regulations for future large tract subdivisions on Tuesday, but it required Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty to swallow hard and back down from his pro-property rights stance as the court’s lone Republican.

The pioneering regulations, based on legal authority rarely sought by counties, are the result of the Southwest Travis County Dialogue, which Daugherty initiated about a year ago after residents in his precinct expressed concerns about serious water run-off issues at the construction site of the West Cypress Hills subdivision on Lick Creek. For Democrats like Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis, the new regulations are “another tool in the toolbox.” For Daugherty, it is a serious imposition on the private property rights.

The Real Estate Council of Austin, represented by President Jim Knight, agreed to support the proposed regulations. The group praised Executive Director Joe Gieselman’s concessions to the development community, such as those on utility services. Knight said if some considered the rules too permissive and others considered them too strict, then the county had probably hit the right balance in its rules.

Property owner Ted Stewart, on the other hand, was strongly opposed to the regulations, and specifically the regulation of land along the bluffs of waterways. RECA could support the regulations because RECA is a group of central city developers that simply “don’t have a dog in this fight” like many of the landowners in the area, Stewart said.

In the last week, Gieselman has attempted to broaden options for landowners of bluff property, such as the creation of a conservation district, somewhat like a planned unit development. He also agreed to exceptions if lots were larger or setbacks maintained. To Stewart, the creation of a framework of a conservation district was simply a step toward more rigorous requirements that could eventually devalue his property. Requiring large acreage for conservation easements is a regulatory taking in Stewart’s book.

Stewart directed most of his questions at Daugherty, who has agreed to allow the dialogue to take the county where it needed to go, even if it wasn’t always what he liked. Daugherty did acknowledge he had read the legal brief from Stewart’s attorney on the legal admissibility of the county’s regulations, but Daugherty said the one thing he had learned from reading briefs on all sides of the issue was that there were as many interpretations of the law as there are sides, and the final arbiter would be the court.

“If you’re asking me, do I think we have the ability and should we have the ability as the Commissioners Court to impose regulations, I think that we should and that we need some rules. But there is a limit as to where I’m willing to go with that,” Daugherty said. “Even though I may philosophically agree with all of the things that were said in that ( Landowners Conservancy) brief, whenever we go into executive session or whenever the County Attorney comes to our office, I’ve got to rely on our legal staff.”

Daugherty said he had worked to be an honest broker among all the stakeholders in the Southwest Dialogue, trying to negotiate some compromise on various issues. While it has yet to be developed, Daugherty said he would always support justly compensating landowners for the value lost from county regulations. Pct 2. County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner told Stewart that her experience with the Balcones Canyonlands Preserves led her to believe that preserve lots were a prime marketing tool for many developers. She expected Stewart’s land to increase, rather than decrease, in value.

Daugherty did attempt to pull the language on the bluffs development from the overall list of subdivision regulations – saying that he thought the stakeholders could reach a compromise but simply had not done so yet – but the motion failed for a lack of a second. The regulations then passed on a unanimous vote by the court.

The original plan was to replace interim with permanent regulations in October. Gieselman said such a timeline was probably too ambitious. He said staff would continue to work diligently on getting consensus on rules – such as a more complete definition and incentives for conservation districts – but that the regulations were not likely to be ready before the beginning of the year.

Regional animal shelter on track

A new regional animal shelter for Williamson County is a step closer to being built after County Commissioners reviewed an architect’s design for the new facility yesterday. The new shelter, to be built on Georgetown’s Inner Loop, replaces an aging facility in Leander and will serve almost all the cities in the county.

Commissioners took no action Tuesday, but watched a presentation by Larry Connolly of Connolly Architects, an Austin-based firm that specializes in animal shelter design.

According to Connolly, the shelter will be about 50,000 square feet, designed to meet the county’s needs through 2015. The only general use animal shelter currently in Williamson County is the Humane Society facility in Leander, which has been in a deteriorated condition for some time.

The new facility will cost about $3 million dollars, half paid for by the county and the other half apportioned among the cities of Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander and Hutto. The cities of Georgetown and Taylor already operate local animal shelters, but could participate in the project at a later date.

A board made up of representatives from the various entities participating will operate the shelter.

Several residents who own property near the planned shelter site addressed commissioners with concerns over potential problems, such as the noise and smell of being located near the facility. Architects said the shelter would be designed to minimize both problems for those living nearby, as well as making the shelter a comfortable and humane facility for housing and adopting stray dogs and cats.

Williamson County Public Information Director Connie Watson said she would be putting together a program based on Connolly’s presentation to take to various parts of the county and get public input on the project. Watson said she hopes to have a schedule for those meetings finalized by next week.

Commissioners also discussed the hiring of an Animal Services Director for the county to manage the shelter. Commissioners asked Cathy Grimes, Commissioner Greg Boatright’s assistant, and Human Resources Director John Willingham to develop a job description, including salary, with an eye toward having that person on board when construction begins.

In other action, commissioners held the first of two budget work sessions planned for Tuesday and today to allow county department heads to discuss the first cut of the 2005-06 budget and plead their case for changes. Commissioners will continue work on the budget for the next few weeks and are expected to approve the final document in late August.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Vassallo promoted . . . City Manager Toby Futrell has named Kristen Vassallo Chief of Staff, adding that to her previous title, Director of Communications and Public Information. The chief of staff position has been vacant for more than a year. In addition to public information, Vassallo will oversee the Agenda Office, the Human Resources Department and Government Relations . . . Telecom meeting . . . The City Council Telecom Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to meet at 3:30pm in the Boards and Commissions room at City Hall. Council Member Betty Dunkerley has been out of town due to an illness in her family, and if she is not able to attend the meeting could be postponed since that would leave only Council Member Raul Alvarez to have the meeting … CTRMA meeting . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority takes its monthly meeting on the road, as it meets at 9:30am at the Leander City Hall Council Chambers at 201 N. Brushy Street. On the agenda is a progress report on US 183-A. . . . Other meetings . . . Williamson County Commissioners meet at 2 pm in a budget work session at the County Annex, 301 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown. . . Leibovitz: Late ‘til 8 . . . The Austin Museum of Art (AMOA) will keep its doors open until 8 pm for the final four nights of the very popular current exhibitions, Annie Leibovitz: American Music and Charles Mary Kubricht: Scanning the Grand Canyon. The extended hours, “Leibovitz: Late ‘til 8,” are in response to the public demand to see the exhibitions. Regularly, the galleries close at 6pm (Thursdays at 8pm) but will remain open until 8pm August 4 – 7 to serve the surge of people that accompanies the close of an exhibition. . . ADA lawsuits . . . Members of ADAPT and the Texas Civil Rights Project sued 15 different businesses and government agencies around the state on Tuesday to mark the15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. One of the targets of the lawsuits was the Gables West Avenue mixed-use development at 300 West Avenue in downtown Austin. ADAPT member Stephanie Thomas said most of the first-floor shops and businesses in the complex did not have wheelchair ramps facing the street. But Gables Residential Senior Regional Manager Renee Clark said the complex did comply with the federal rule. “These are actually apartments, but they can turn them into businesses if they so choose. It would be the responsibility of the tenant to make them ADA compliant on the exterior, but they are compliant on the interior.” Thomas said that calling an individual business for entry into the interior of the complex was not an acceptable solution. “I went in, I knocked on one of the doors, and there were a bunch of boxes in the way,” she said. “It wasn’t an accessible entrance. It was a joke.” . . . Rapid Bus meetings. . . Capital Metro plans three public meetings in the next two days to give the public a look at its new Rapid Bus program. The first meeting is tonight from 6:30 – 8pm at the Texas Department of Human Services Winters Building 701 W. 51st Street. There are two meetings on Thursday, 11:30 am – 1pm at City Hall, 301 W. 2nd and 6:30 – 8pm at Grace United Methodist, 205 E. Monroe. . . . Getting it right. . . . In an item in this column yesterday, In Fact Daily used a partial quote from Capital Metro CEO Fred Gilliam that may have been misleading. What he said was “We are encouraging StarTran and the union to vote to get back to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith. That’s their obligation and we expect then to do it.” Gilliam wanted to make it clear that the labor dispute was between the union and StarTran, a subsidiary of Capital Metro, not Capital Metro itself.

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