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Council approves expanded budget

Tuesday, September 13, 2005 by

More funds for social services, city rank and file

In a carefully scripted series of motions, the City Council yesterday approved next year’s budget unanimously, leaving the tax rate at 44.3 cents per $100 of valuation. That rate is expected to bring in an additional $1.8 million in tax money since property values have generally increased.

The overall approved budget was for $2.1 billion, with the General Fund budget at $481.6 million. The Council had reserved three days to consider the 2006 budget, but completed its work in just under three hours.

Any differences of opinion over budgetary matters were apparently hashed out prior to Monday’s meeting, as Council members quickly moved through a series of budget motions and amendments, voting unanimously for each one of them

Some major highlights of the budget include:

• $27.7 million for wage adjustments for non-civil service employees, including Pay for Performance, Living Wage to $10.90 per hour, Service Incentive Pay Enhancement, and Market Adjustments for 100 percent of workforce;

• $1 million increase in funding for Social Services;

• $471,000 in additional funding for the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless;

• $1.0 million additional funding for the library to re-open branch libraries an additional day per week;

• $1.0 million for 24 new paramedics;

• $250,000 in new funding for programs in Southeast Austin; and

• $4.6 million for code enforcement, a 42 percent increase over FY 2005. That includes nine additional positions, four of whom would be inspectors.

One major item not included in the budget is a contract with Austin’s firefighters. Negotiations continue over a new three-year pact, with negotiators reportedly still far apart on pay issues.

The Council approved adding $127,000 to the part of the budget that funds firefighter pay, and directed City Manager Toby Futrell to select a top five accounting firm to compare the latest proposal by the firefighters’ union to the city’s proposal to provide independent data and to determine the pay rate of Austin firefighters compared to other cities in Texas. Futrell said that review would probably take about 30 days.

Firefighter’s union president Mike Martinez wasn’t convinced of the Council’s sincerity.

“I think it’s posturing,” he said. “The proposal we have on the table doesn’t raise the budget proposal one penny. We are willing to accept what’s on the table but what we’d like to have is the savings we've come up with plus what’s on the table.” Martinez was referring to a proposal to cut staffing on some firefighting equipment to save funds on manpower. (See In Fact Daily, September 2, 2005.)

“Now, City Council is saying we would like to hire a third party, independent accounting firm to review our own math,” Martinez said. “In collective bargaining, you have the option to have a third party hearing examiner, an arbitrator. If they want to hire a third party, why don’t we just go to arbitration as collective bargaining allows us to do? … (Because) the city has already said they wouldn’t agree to arbitration.”

Council Member Brewster McCracken said while the Council voted 7-0 in open session for the extra money for the firefighters, the reality was much different from that. "A divided City Council has authorized offering an additional $127,000 on top of the 17.5 percent pay raise we’ve already offered to the fire union," McCracken said. “We had to balance the budget, so what I am hoping, and what I tried to make a point on today, was that we will not need that $127,000 to put on top of (17.5 percent) …which is larger than any city employee is going to be getting."

McCracken said he, C

ouncil Member Betty Dunkerley and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas were all opposed to the extra $127,000.

According to Martinez, no negotiating sessions are currently scheduled, though some subcommittees may meet this week. October 1 is the deadline for reaching a new contract.

Another city employees’ union official was very happy with what the Council did for its non-civil service employees. Jack Kirfman, political director for AFSCME, said the Council is moving in the right direction for its workers, many of whom went without raises for the past three years.

"They’ve come through like gangbusters here, saying they do want to invest back into the workforce,” he said. “We couldn’t have done this without their help."

He said the Council’s use of a market study will show increases for many of the city’s employees.

“A majority of our membership in the workforce is going to see anywhere from five to 10 percent (increase), because the cost of living and the cost of doing business in this city has moved tremendously in the last four years, not to mention the last few months with the cost of fuel prices,” he said. “I think ultimately our folks will see real benefit out of this.”

Some other major changes in the 2006 City Budget include $370,000 for additional food inspectors and communicable disease screeners; $475,000 for additional neighborhood planners and a historic zoning reviewer; $320,000 for increases in parks maintenance and forestry, an additional $1.0 million for residential solar rebates; and $3.8 million for Cultural Arts funding.

The budget does include a 5.2 percent average increase in Water/Wastewater bills, about $2 per month. That will fund $975 million in capital improvements for the utility.

CAMPO delays Cap Metro appointments

Union opponents of Capital Metro found enough support at Monday night’s Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Committee meeting to delay the reappointment of John Treviño and Lee Walker to the Cap Metro board.

Union members picketed outside the meeting, drawing attention to the continuing impasse in labor negotiations between Capital Metro contractor StarTran and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local Chapter 1091. Local union members spoke to the CAMPO board, saying Capital Metro had failed to keep its promise of “hands off” negotiations and was pushing union members toward an inevitable strike.

Some, like Mayor Will Wynn, considered the appointment of the two board members to be separate and apart from the labor dispute. As a city going through its own labor negotiations with firefighters, Wynn said he could not support the CAMPO board interjecting itself into the ongoing disagreement between labor and management.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a long-time opponent of Capital Metro, made the motion to delay the vote for 60 days while the board sought more answers on whether tax dollars should be spent on road building or another rail referendum. He said StarTran talks about more cuts while Capital Metro continues to spend only between 74 and 85 percent of its one-penny sales tax, while putting the balance in reserves.

In 20 years, Capital Metro has failed the raise the percentage of people using public transportation, Daugherty said. Instead, the lack of success – both mass transit and road building — had forced CAMPO to take a controversial vote on a toll road package. Daugherty said CAMPO should take another look at the board’s direction.

“Are we going to continue to watch this agency go down the stream it is going right now, and continue to put the same people on board?” Daugherty asked. “If we do, you’re never going to find any difference.”

Walker and Treviño were appointed in 1997. The two were reappointed in 1999, 2001 and 2003. Treviño serves on the CAMPO board. Walker, who was in the audience last night, currently serves as the president of the Capital Metro board.

Daugherty has yet to build a coalition to take a portion of the sales tax funding away from Capital Metro. On Monday night, however, he did find an ally in Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, who was concerned about union claims that Capital Metro had intervened in labor negotiations. Thomas said he was willing to give the appointments a 30-day delay to sort out some of the charges made by the union.

Union representatives claimed that it was Capital Metro, not StarTran, calling the shots on negotiations. After the meeting, Kent McCullough of StarTran said the negotiations were solely between StarTran and the union and that it was always the understanding during negotiations that the leaders on both sides – in consultation with attorneys – would have the final vote to sign off on negotiations. McCullough admitted that StarTran and Capital Metro shared the same attorney – with separate fees—but did not consider representation of both parties to be a conflict of interest for the lawyer or the agency.

In the end, the board voted 17-6, to delay the vote by 30 days. However, next month, only the eight CAMPO board members who represent jurisdictions within the Capital Metro service area will be allowed to vote on the appointments. House Bill 1815, passed in the last session, removed previous term limits on the Cap Metro board and only allows elected officials of political subdivisions in which Capital Metro’s sales tax is collected to vote on Capital Metro appointments. The pair’s terms expire on Thursday.

Those who will be able to vote on the appointment next month will be Wynn, Thomas and Daugherty as well as Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Brewster McCracken, C ounty Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, County Judge Sam Biscoe and Williamson County Commissioner Frankie Limmer.

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

Newest Austinites fanning out . . City Manager Toby Futrell said Monday she believes the city’s Convention Center will only be housing about 500 Hurricane Katrina evacuees at the end of the week, down from the approximately 1,200 who spent the night there on Sunday. There were more than 4,000 evacuees there initially. Futrell said those individuals who remain would present more difficult challenges since many are elderly and have no family. Others examples include a single mother with two children, including a son who has bipolar disorder. Futrell said the child had been on the wrong medication for four days—a problem apparently solved this weekend. The City Manager said she had seen the woman asleep early Monday morning for the first time since the family arrived in Austin. “She will need some special support. We can't just move her out into an apartment. She will need some help”. . . Donation Center closes . . . City officials say the immediate needs of the Hurricane Katrina evacuees have been met with donations that have been received from the citizens of Austin at the F reescale Donation Center site on Ed Bluestein Blvd. More than 15,000 cars were unloaded and more than 1,500 pallets of supplies, measuring four feet by four feet, were donated. The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department closed the Donation Center on Sunday and will no longer need volunteers after today at the Freescale site. . . Watson readies for Senate campaign . . . Former Mayor Kirk Watson, who said last week that he would run for the State Senate seat being vacated by Gonzalo Barrientos, has hired a campaign manager. Mayor Will Wynn’s aide, Matt Curtis, says Watson has hired Sandra Ramos, who has trained Democratic campaign managers throughout the US . . Meetings . . . The Airport Advisory Commission will meet at 5pm in Room 160 at 2716 Spirit of Texas Drive. . . The Historic Preservation Task Force meets at 5:30pm in room 240 of One Texas Center. . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm in room 105 at Waller Creek Center . . . Travis County Commissioners meet at 9am in Commissioner Chambers at 314 W. 11th Street. . . Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive . . . No change requested . . . On Monday, In Fact Daily reported that Council Member Jennifer Kim would be seeking a small increase in the budget for staffing her office. However, her aide, Amy Everhart said Monday that Kim had decided not to ask for the extra money this year.

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