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Williamson growth outstrips funds

Friday, July 1, 2005 by

Rapid growth in Williamson County is making for some tough budget choices.

When the county’s Public Assistance Committee recently briefed County Commissioners on its 2005-06 funding recommendations for social service and nonprofit agencies, they said they had less than half of the amount requested to apportion among the groups.

Pct. 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman, who briefed the rest of the court, said requests for programs far outstripped the county’s available resources.

“We had $764,000 in requests to consider, but only $300,000 available for next year,” Birkman said. “That made for some difficult decisions, and certainly everyone is not happy with the outcome. But we believe we are putting the money where it will do the most good.”

County Commissioners will have the final say on how the funds are appropriated when it finalizes the budget in August. But the committee’s work will be used as a benchmark on which to base the budget, Birkman said.

A few agencies were given the entire amount requested. The committee fully funded requests from the Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center and Williamson County Crisis Center, recommending $50,000 for the Children’s Advocacy Center and $65,000 for the Crisis Center. The Round Rock Area Serving Center, which provides indigent residents with assistance in health-related issues, also received all of the $5,000 it requested.

The group also recommended $100,000 for the Williamson County History Museum, its first significant funding since it was opened in 2003. An additional staff member will be hired to assist Museum Director Chris Dyer.

Several organizations only received a portion of their request. Crime Stoppers of Williamson County sought $25,000 to increase crime prevention awareness and to set up Crime Stoppers programs at six area high schools, but only received a $10,000 recommendation.

The Round Rock Volunteer Center, asking for $9,000, received only $3,000. Committee members cited current changes in operations at the volunteer center among the reasons for their recommendation.

The Literacy Council of Williamson County received a $25,000 recommendation, despite a request for $35,000. The Literacy Council has received $25,000 from the county for the past three years.

Some programs saw funding cuts from previous years. The Williamson-Burnet County Opportunities program, which provides Head-Start classes, Meals on Wheels, and adult day care programs was recommended for $60,000, after being funded for $71,600 for the past three years. The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) took a 25 percent cut in funding from previous years, getting only $15,000.

The committee recommended against providing funding to several other organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas and Johns Community Hospital in Taylor, which both requested a combined $209,800. The committee said both organizations had other sources of funds.

Commissioners could add some funds to next year’s budget to cover more of the agencies’ requests, but that seemed unlikely without a tax increase. Commissioners have vowed to hold the line on any tax hikes for next year.

New parks not planned for bond election

Proposed parks projects for next year’s city bond election are not flashy, a point that worries some members of the Parks and Recreation Board, who want to make sure the projects are easy to sell to the voters in next year’s municipal bond election.

Projects under the 1992 and 1998 bond issues focused more heavily on big-ticket items, new construction for various city departments. Only a fraction of the bonds focused on renovation or maintenance of existing facilities. In a presentation to the Parks and Recreation Board Tuesday night, parks planner Stuart Strong reported that balance is about to shift, with many of the candidate projects in next year’s issue focused on aging facilities and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This bond issue is predominantly infrastructure and renovation,” said Parks and Recreation Department Director Warren Struss. “The bond issue in 1992, on the other hand, was a very facility-rich package with new buildings and new facilities and a lot of new things that seem to bring out a pretty heavy citizen turnout to vote. I don’t know how interesting this bond issue is going to be to the public, but it’s a huge need for the city.”

Travis County is considering projects like the purchase of the high-profile Reimers Ranch and the development of property on Lake Travis. The city Parks Department, on the other hand, could be spending almost half its proposed $78 million in bonds on repairing leaks and decks at pools. That would be $35.3 million, followed by $31.2 million for playscapes, hike-and-bike trail restoration and sports facilities at various existing parks. And, finally, the department is proposing $11.6 million for air conditioning work and historic restoration.

Park bonds are likely to be one option among a number of options on the ballot. Because renovation is the cornerstone of the parks plan, much of the money will be focused on the inner city. Board Member Mark Vane urged the department to make sure that the final list had some balance so that voters across the city could support the issue. Board Member Marilyn Bostick, citing the neighbors’ opposition to new tennis courts in South Austin, urged the department to make sure candidate projects were ones the community supported. If South Austin couldn’t support tennis courts, then other parts of the city were more than willing to step up to support new facilities for their own parks, Bostick said.

In general, Parks and Recreation Board members agreed they wanted to contact both Council members and members of the bond oversight committee to express their concern about park projects. This summer, Struss said, would be the prime time to lobby and educate those who would be making the decisions on the final project list.

The Bond Advisory Committee will consider $768 million in candidate projects from all city departments. The list will have to be pared down to $279 million to avoid a tax increase. The list will be presented to Council in November, with a tentative May 2006 bond election scheduled for the city.

Hart house moves into history

The Historic Landmark Commission on Monday voted unanimously to support historic zoning for the former home of a University of Texas Chancellor and Texas Supreme Court Justice.J ames P. Hart and his wife, Katherine Drake Hart, owned the home at 1800 Forest Trail for decades. New owner Francis and Robin Thompson requested the historic zoning after restoring the property.

“The house was really in pretty bad shape,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, who applauded the Thompson’s restoration efforts. “They completed the restoration and added an attached garage. By my evaluation, it still retains its historic appearance.”

“I returned to Austin and bought this home to make it a home for my family,” Francis Thompson told the members of the HLC. “When I heard the story of the Hart family, I felt it would be historic. I really feel like we’ve taken this house back to its roots.”

James Hart served as Chancellor of the University of Texas from November 15, 1950 until January 1, 1954. Prior to that, he served as Travis County District Attorney and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

His wife, Katherine, was also a notable figure. “Her major contribution to the city is she became the archivist of the Austin Travis-County Collection at the Austin Public Library,” said Sadowsky. “She was instrumental in establishing the collection as a major historical resource in the city. She started a series of articles on Austin history for the Austin Statesman and was a tireless preservationist.” She was also a member of the Heritage Society and served on the Austin Board of Education.

“I visited the house when the family was deciding what to do with it,” said Commissioner Laurie Limbacher. “It was a special house because it reflected the family so directly.” The commission voted 6-0 to support the staff’s recommendation to change the zoning from SF-3 to SF-3-H.

The commission was less enthusiastic about plans to move two homes within the confines of the Clarksville neighborhood. In both cases, the homes are the subject of historic zoning cases going before the City Council.

For the January House at 1617 W. 12th, the commission postponed consideration of a certificate of appropriateness on the move until July. For the Nelson and Texanna Davis House, the HLC voted not to recommend the certificate of appropriateness. The zoning case on that home has already been heard by the City Council on first reading and the Board of Adjustment recently approved a variance for the lot where the Clarksville Community Development Corporation plans to move the home. “If you move it, then this commission may decide it has lost its historic character,” said Commissioner Patti Hansen. “We have an historic zoning case pending before the City Council. If we move for relocation, it cancels out that case.”

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that the historic zoning case ran with the home’s current lot on W.12th Street. Should the home eventually be moved, which appears to be likely, that case would be withdrawn and a new one filed for the new location. “This commission has already determined that this house is historically significant,” said Commissioner Laurie Limbacher. “The question of moving the house tends to compromise that assessment, doesn’t it? I think it does.”

The commission voted 5-1 to deny the certificate of appropriateness, with Commissioner Daniel Leary opposing the motion to deny. The City Council makes the final decision on historic zoning.

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

Time off . . . In Fact Daily wishes you and yours a happy, safe and restful Independence Day. We are taking off through next Friday and will return on July 11 . . . Wear your hard hat . . . City Hall is undergoing some renovations, such as painting the Council chamber ceiling, soundproofing of City Council offices and installing guard rails in the garage and outside the building. Most of the indoor work is scheduled to be completed by July 24 . . . Gringos in Mexico . . . American authors and photographers who have traveled south of the border in search of insight and inspiration are featured in the exhibit Gringos in Mexico, showing at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport through August 29. Famous names such as Katherine Anne Porter, J. Frank Dobie, Bud Shrake, Bill Wittliff, and Dick Reavis are among the authors featured in the exhibit .. . Part-time job opening . . . The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is seeking a part-time professional environmental educator to assist in planning and executing its Community Outreach and Education program. This job is offered on a temporary basis for up to 19.75 hours per week. For complete details and application, please visit: http://www.bseacd.org/graphics/Env_Educator_Temp.pdf .Applications will be accepted until close of business July 7, 2005. All responses must include a completed employment application. For more information call 512.282.8441

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