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Lack of arterial irks Northeast Austin residents

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 by

The absence of “ Arterial A” — a major north-south roadway through Northeast Travis County — from the list of recommended mobility projects in the upcoming Travis County bond issue dominated discussion last night at a public hearing in Pflugerville.

Arterial A, which would bisect the land roughly halfway between Dessau Road and Harris Branch Parkway, was an $18.5 million candidate project proposed for the county’s November bond election. However, complications with planning the roadway–—mainly a breakdown in communications with Waste Management Inc. — pushed the project off the list of the bond committee’s final cut.

A dozen Walnut Creek residents were on hand at last night’s hearing to support inclusion of Arterial A on the list of mobility projects. As resident Joyce Thoreson pointed out to the panel of members from the citizens bond advisory committee, almost all the projects on the candidate list provided additional east-west, rather than north-south, access. With another 3,500 homes platted to the north, Arterial A is becoming a necessity, resident Angela Michaels told the group.

“This is the City of Austin’s desired development area,” Michaels said. “They are pushing people to build in this area, meeting with people to put up affordable housing, and it’s all going on just north of us. All that traffic is going to be coming down our streets, and they’re not going to be slowing down.”

Travis County, however, is deadlocked with WMI over the nearby Wilder tract. WMI had agreed to relocate its landfill from its current location to the Wilder tract, slightly north and east of its current location. That would have taken the landfill operator out of the path of the proposed arterial. For that concession, however, the landfill operator wants to expand its waste hauling operation on the Wilder tract. The county has refused.

Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman says county leaders have been fairly strict about the financial limits for the bond issue. Arterial A could go on the list, but only if projects of an equivalent value come off the table. The county is aiming for a bond issue in the range of $100 million, although the bond committee has proposed an additional $60 million option for the purchase of open space.

The northeast county residents also were supportive of drainage projects to minimize erosion along Walnut Creek, which has taken a serious toll on a number of back yards in the area. Others spoke in support of a skate park, as well as expansion of two segments of Howard Lane (on the list of projects) and Braker Lane (off the list of projects). A portion of the Howard Lane project is expected to be a public-private partnership.

Budget analysts for Williamson County wielded a sharp knife last week, chopping more than $7 million in funding and 72 of the 112 new positions requested by county departments for the 2005-06 budget. Those recommendations, released last week, will be presented to the Williamson County Commissioners today to study for the next few weeks.

County departments submitted requests for $91.8 million for the general fund. County Judge John Doerfler and budget analyst Ashlie Koenig cut that down to $84.6 million and 40 new jobs for the 2005-06 fiscal year. Commissioners are expected to approve a new budget by late August. Last year, commissioners approved an $80.1 million budget.

The county's largest department, the Sheriff's office, requested $12.3 million but is recommended for only $11.3 million. However, that still represents a 9.5 percent increase over the $10.3 million the department was allocated last year. The Sheriff's Department had requested 53 new positions, but only 18 were recommended. Ten of those are for corrections.

Emergency Medical Services had requested $11.7 million, but only $9.5 million was recommended. That is an 8.8 percent increase over last year. Six new positions were recommended for EMS, although 20 had been requested.

County Auditor David Flores said last week that revenues will likely be sufficient to fund the projected budget without a tax hike.

Salaries were not included in the budget review. Human Resources Director John Willingham has proposed an average 7.66 percent raise for law enforcement officers and 4.73 percent for corrections officers. Other county employees would get a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise.

County officials are expected to discuss the budget recommendations this morning at the Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting at the Inner Loop Annex in Georgetown.

Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Director Joe Gieselman is ready to recommend interim subdivision rules at Commissioners Court today.

Gieselman, who attended last night’s hearing on county bonds, said the interim rules are substantially the same as those he outlined at last week’s meeting. He has, however, created an additional option for buffer zones along bluffs and waterways, one that he will call a conservation district. The conservation district would be similar a planned unit development.

Gieselman and Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols visited T ed Stewart’s 1,500 acres along the Pedernales River last week. Stewart, a vociferous opponent of the county’s proposed regulations, has land above a bluff on the river. (See In Fact Daily, July 20, 2005.) The county and the landowner, however, did not reach a compromise on how to regulate Stewart’s land.

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

Not seeking a promotion . . . Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner told In Fact Daily yesterday, "I've been telling people I'm running for re-election since last October." Nevertheless, the rumor that continues to make the rounds, as reported here yesterday, is that Sonleitner would like to run against County Judge Sam Biscoe. Not only is she not running against him, Sonleitner said the incumbent has her complete support. The Pct. 2 incumbent said she has $44,000 in the bank to run for re-election . . . Upset bubbas . . . Some members of the Westcreek Neighborhood Association are so upset about the city's failure to enforce ordinances against parking on the lawn and other neighborhood-related regulations, that they have urged the Council to fire City Manager Toby Futrell. Members of Futrell's staff are hoping to meet with people from the neighborhood group, which sent a resolution to the Council last week . . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm at Town Lake Center at 721 Barton Springs Road. On the agenda are several neighborhood planning projects. . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6:30pm at the PARD Headquarters, 200 South Lamar Dr. . . .The Resource Management Commission meets at noon at Waller Creek Center, Room 105 . . . City ADA Awards . . . The Austin City Council will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act—which is today—on Thursday, by presenting a proclamation to the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, which will recognize outstanding businesses for their demonstrated commitment to the spirit of the ADA. The 2005 Austin Access Award winners are: Chili’s Restaurant – Stassney Road; HEB – Brodie Lane; Chuy’s Restaurant – North Lamar Boulevard; Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts; Fuddruckers; Rupert & Associates; Grape Vine Market; Target – Ben White Boulevard; and Green Muse Coffee House. Information on the nominations for each business may be viewed at the Mayor’s Committee Web site at . . Acting Superintendent named . . . During a called meeting last night, members of the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees named Dr. Steve Flores as acting superintendent, effective August 1. Flores is currently serving as assistant superintendent of the Round Rock Learning Community. Dr. Tom Gaul will step down as RRISD superintendent on July 31. The board previously voted its intent to appoint Dr. Paul Cruz as interim superintendent. However, Cruz requested that his name be removed for consideration. A called meeting of the Board of Trustees is planned for Friday to select a candidate for consideration as interim superintendent. The board must then wait 21 days before making the official appointment. . . . Bus drivers’ strike looms. . . A group of about 100 informational pickets greeted Capital Metro Board Members yesterday afternoon as they arrived at the transportation authority’s East Austin headquarters for a meeting. A contract between Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 and Capital Metro’s subsidiary StarTran ended June 30 but was extended to August 5. The issues include adding a second salary tier for new employees and cuts in some health benefits. Cap Metro CEO Fred Gilliam told board members that he is confident negotiations will succeed. “We are committed to do what we can to avert a strike and fulfill our service commitments,” he said. We continue to negotiate in good faith.” Union drivers and mechanics are not as optimistic. They have voted to authorize a strike after the August 5 deadline.

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