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Travis County kicks in $25K for toll road study

Wednesday, August 3, 2005 by

Travis County Commissioners have approved a $25,000 contribution to fund the city’s toll road study, clearing the way for the participation of both the county and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which was waiting for a nod from the county to participate.

Council Member Brewster McCracken, who has spearheaded the broad transportation study, had to miss yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting. Terry Bray of the Capital Area Transportation Coalition, who sat in on his behalf, reassured the court that the steering committee, of which Travis County will now be a part, would have oversight of the study. The intention is to produce a non-political document with unbiased data to drive decisions. It will be completed by Boston-based Charles River Associates over the next six to nine months

Commissioners signed off on the money, pending the final language in the agreement. Bray assured the commissioners the study would be independent from any one body or group and that it would be comprehensive enough to produce good data.

Under the current plan, the $300,000 study will consider both the proposed toll road system and possible alternatives to tolling on proposed roads. A nine-member board made up of both elected officials and representatives from the policymaking bodies affected will oversee the study. To date, the financial contributions have been $144,000 from the City of Austin and the $25,000 from Travis County. McCracken also has requested Williamson County’s participation in the study.

CAMPO has offered in-kind services, which Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said made sense, given that the mobility authority is funded by local jurisdictions and, as such, would simply turn around to ask its member to help foot the bill for its contributions. So far, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has offered personnel, but no financial contribution, to the study. Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein did not call back before press time to clarify what the county decision might mean for the CTRMA’s participation. The CTRMA is expected to offer the results of its revenue studies to the city study.

Rich Bailey in McCracken’s office says the study’s purpose is to clarify and review the financial numbers and assumptions in the regional toll road plan. The question will be whether toll roads are the best course of action, or whether a combination of toll roads, high-occupancy vehicle lanes and free roads, or even a regional gas tax, might be feasible, Bailey said.

Public input will be invited before the final release of the report next June, although the purpose of any public testimony will be to test the financial assumptions of the report. The process will include a 60-day public comment period before final adoption of the report.

Raises proposed for county officials

Travis County Commissioners Tuesday agreed to propose boosting the salaries of the district clerk and county constables, while holding to a strict 2 percent increase on their own salaries.

A hearing on elected official pay raises is scheduled in two weeks. The proposal is to boost the District Clerk’s salary by 15.5 percent to bring it in line with the County Clerk’s salary, which is close to $95,000. That was the recommendation of the independent citizens’ advisory committee reviewing elected official pay.

The committee also recommended boosting constable pay by 25 percent. Both County Judge Sam Biscoe and County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner spoke against the proposal, with Sonleitner saying she was not comfortable with the committee’s assessment that constable pay should be comparable to the Sheriff’s salary. The two jobs are different, with the Sheriff responsible for correctional duties the constables do not have, Sonleitner said.

Biscoe settled on half the recommended amount, proposing a 12.5 percent increase in salary.

Commissioner Ron Davis argued that he wanted to see boosts to rank-and-file pay at the same level. The court has yet to consider the salaries of regular employees. Biscoe agreed with the sentiment, but he pointed out raising constable pay was only five salaries out of 4,100 employee salaries. That’s a pay raise on a different scale, Biscoe said.

The proposal for the commissioners and the county judge will be set at 2 percent. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty opposed the pay raises for the other elected officials – saying he preferred an across-the-board approach – but agreed to take the 2 percent raise.

Council to consider prescription drug plan for clinics

McCracken to offer amendment on contraception Clients of Austin’s Community Health Centers—served through the Travis County Hospital District—will be getting a new pharmacy and better hours to pick up their prescriptions if the City Council approves an amendment to its contract with Walgreens on Thursday.

Walgreens drugstores already serve some City of Austin employees via city contract. Council Member Betty Dunkerley explained the clinic patients generally had to wait for long periods of time for treatment and then had to return to the clinic later to pick up their prescriptions.

“But the idea was there would be more accessibility,” at Walgreens " because the hours are longer, “ she said. Dunkerley said that the city had not been able to use commercial pharmacies in the past because the federal government required pharmacies to keep a separate inventory of medications for those participating in medical assistance programs so it wasn’t feasible to have commercial pharmacies do it. However, she said the law had changed and pharmacies are now allowed to keep inventories separate on the computer only.

Because of the contract, Dunkerley said Walgreens would be allowed to purchase drugs at a very low rate to offer to clinic clients. Dunkerley said not only will use of Walgreens be more convenient for patients, it will solve a problem the health district has had–inability to hire enough pharmacists. The former Assistant City Manager knew about that problem firsthand since she had to deal with it as a city employee.

Council Member Brewster McCracken has another concern and will be offering an amendment to the contract to ensure that no woman has trouble purchasing contraceptives. There have been some concerns about whether Walgreens’ pharmacists might be able to refuse to provide prescription birth control to clinic patients. Walgreens website states, " Our goal regarding emergency contraception and the dispensing of similar medications is to ensure our the female patients are able to have all of their prescription needs met. "

In Fact Daily, “We are spending taxpayer dollars and we need to protect the rights of all Austinites to receive the medication their doctors prescribe.” Planned Parenthood is asking its local members to send emails to the Mayor and Council in support of McCracken's amendment. An email from Danielle Tierney, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, is in the works urging recipients to " let our elected officials know that you are counting on them to take every action necessary to protect women's access to contraception and that you know how important it is to take action at the local level. “

The amended contract will be for up to nearly $1.4 million for the first year and increasing somewhat each year for the next three years, for a total of $14.3 million.

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

Mayor wants water plant moved . . . Austin Mayor Will Wynn this morning will call for moving the Green Water Treatment Plant by the summer of next year. The Mayor has previously discussed his desire for the prime downtown real estate to be made available for another use and for getting the land back on the tax rolls. Setting a firm deadline for moving the Green Water Treatment Plant from its current location, Mayor Wynn says, will allow the city to begin working on the technical details for redeveloping the site. Some environmentalists have expressed concern that moving the plant would result in less federal protection for Barton Springs, but moving the plant could also facilitate changing the timetable for construction for Water Treatment Plant #4. The Environmental Board and the Save Our Springs Alliance, among others, have said that plant should be built at a different location . . . Showing off . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) folks tasked with such duties will be showing the press around Emma Long Metropolitan Park this morning. The point is to brag on the results of LCRA’s efforts to oust the pesky hydrilla weed from Lake Austin . . . Meetings. . .The Travis County bond committee will hold a hearing tonight at 6:30pm at the East Travis County satellite office at 9301 Johnny Morris Road . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in City Council Chambers. On the agenda is an update on the Eastern Preserves from the Parks and Recreation Department, and an appointment to the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Preserve Board. . . The Water and Wastewater Commission meets at 6pm in Room 104 at the Waller Creek Plaza. In addition to several routine business items, the commission will hear a briefing on Austin Water Utility's Proposed Budget and Rates for Fiscal Year 2005-06 and an update on the Austin Clean Water Program. . . The Bond Election Advisory Committee Transportation and Drainage Subcommittee meets at 6:30pm in Room 3005 at City Hall. . . . Moving on to Manor . . . Tom Bolt with the city’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department will be leaving that post in a few weeks. Bolt will not be going far. He has accepted a position as the Development Services Coordinator for the City of Manor…. DBE Networking . . . Capital Metro is inviting minority and women business owners to a “ Prime Time Networking Session” from 5:30 to 7pm on August 16 at its headquarters at 2910 E. 5th Street. The event is designed to provide the opportunity for certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) to network with prime contractors. Business owners interested in participating in this networking session can contact Lamont Ross at (512) 389-7434 or email . . . TCSO Citizen’s Academy . . . The Travis County Sheriff's Office is sponsoring the next installment of its Sheriff's Citizens' Academy. The 25th Travis County Sheriff's Citizens Academy Class begins on August 9 and is currently accepting applications. The class is broken down into 13, three-hour classes on Tuesday evenings usually from 6:45 -10pm. For an application, call Senior Deputy Mary Rodriguez at 854-9770, Pamela Mayo-Clark at 854-4392, or e-mail . . . School supply drive . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken’s office staff is holding a drive to collect school supplies beginning today through August 16 at City Hall. Donation bins will be in the first floor lobby and outside of McCracken’s office. All supplies will be donated to Communities in Schools -Central Texas. CIS is a member of the nation's leading school-based, dropout prevention network, helping children stay in school and prepare for a successful life.

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