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CTRMA chips in $125K for toll road study

Thursday, September 1, 2005 by

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority agreed yesterday to put up $125,000 toward the regional toll road study being led by Council Member Brewster McCracken, bringing the total contributions to date to just under $320,000.

Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein admitted the CTRMA would have been an unlikely participant if the study of alternatives proposed by McCracken had simply been the project of one city. Instead, the scope was broadened to create an independent study with a representative steering committee. With that step – and the participation of the two member counties of the regional mobility authority – the CTRMA agreed to join.

Heiligenstein said he was assured the approach would be “consistent and fair,” productive instead of negative. Chair Bob Tesch said he looked forward to a study that could provide fair and impartial information to the board.

The study, to be completed by Charles Rivers Associates, will consider the most cost-effective alternatives for the second phase of toll roads, whether that approach is a free road, toll road or mix of both free and toll lanes.

Participating jurisdictions in the study include Austin ($144,000), Travis County ($25,000), Williamson County ($25,000) and the CTRMA ($125,000). McCracken still expects the possible participation of Hays County and the City of Round Rock. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization has agreed to provide staff support.

The CTRMA will have two seats on the steering committee, which Tesch will appoint. Other members so far are Williamson County’s Frankie Limmer, State Reps. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) and Mark Strama (D-Austin). McCracken and Council Member Betty Dunkerley will serve as the city’s representatives on the committee.

City offers more money for lowest paid firefighters

Collective bargaining teams for the City of Austin and the firefighters union met for a short time Wednesday, with the city making a somewhat higher offer that would increase the wages for the union’s lowest ranks. Council Member Betty Dunkerley said the city had added about $150,000 over a three-year period to its wage proposal. “Our purpose from the beginning was to have all of the steps and all the ranks be at the top or higher than any of the major cities in Texas,” she said.

Mike Martinez, president of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters (AAPF), told In Fact Daily, “We’re asking them for a pay scale so we could get a clearer picture of what they're proposing.” He said the city offer increased from a total of approximately $27,049, 000 to $27,440,000. Part of the increase relates to leave to do firefighters’ association business and part of it relates to the pay scale. “We were glad to see that Council heard (that) the lowest wage earners were being left very far behind. So they did put some significant increases at the lowest level.”

Martinez said the union negotiators want more information about a study the city had previously done showing wages of firefighters in different cities around the state. He said that “we’re not opposed to the idea” put forth Monday by Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken to have one of the Big Four accounting firms verify salaries of firefighters in large Texas cities.

The city has been negotiating with the AAPF since February. The two sides disagree over whether or not the salary numbers cited by the city are correct. They have also disagreed about which cities should be used for comparison.

Dunkerley said Wednesday she expects that should an audit would be very simple and would cost less than $20,000.

Martinez said City Manager Toby Futrell had sent out an email leaving the impression that the firefighters union had refused to meet with the city’s team in a subcommittee format on Monday. However, Martinez said that was not true. In fact, he said, no one asked him or the association for a meeting on Monday. He said the city had contacted only one member of the union team. That person said he could not meet, but did not speak for the union.

Zoning code rewrite on hold

Scope of project has grown

As the city prepares to overhaul its aging zoning code, there is an ever-growing list of projects that will be affected by changes in the regulations, which were drafted in the mid-1980s. The Council’s new Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee’s first assignment last week was to study the process and make suggestions to city staff on reaching the goal of applying best practices to zoning for achieving a livable community.

Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman told the subcommittee that since the original request for proposal was put out in October 2004, staff has revised the scope of the project.

“Based on the responses we received from the first group of consultants, we decided that scope was too narrow,” she said. “We put it out again in December, and after rating the proposals, we narrowed it down to the top candidate.”

Subcommittee members emphasized that the Zoning Code update would be critical to several upcoming projects in the city, particularly land use plans for developments along State Highway 130, and the city’s plans for Transit Oriented Development along Capital Metro’s planned commuter rail line.

Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Lee Leffingwell both expressed concerns about public input into the process.

“I think we need to stress the openness of the process to the consulting firm,” Dunkerley said. “We need to make certain they are involved in the public hearings.”

Leffingwell asked for more details on how information about the process would be transmitted to the public and how stakeholders would be identified.

“We will begin the process by bringing these recommendations to the Council,” Huffman said. “We will then form a stakeholder group to give feedback throughout the process. Then it will move through the various boards and commissions before coming back to the Council, with public hearings at every step in that process.”

She said the city has a list of groups and individuals who have expressed interest in the zoning update, and that would be used to form the nucleus of the stakeholders group. “We will encourage those folks to contact other interested parties to bring them into the process, as well,“ she added.

Committee Chair Brewster McCracken pointed to the process used to develop the Mueller Airport Redevelopment Plan as an example of how he hoped this process could be handled.

“Mueller is an example of a good guidepost for this process,” he said. “I would like to repeat the process that led us to hire the Roma Group. That resulted in a great plan. The better the process, the higher the public’s buy-in will be.”

Huffman said the consulting firm of Duncan Associates would be the staff’s recommendation for the project, based on a two-stage process combining technical ratings with a final interview. She said, however, that the process has been on hold since March awaiting further action from the Council.

She outlined multiple goals that the city wants the contractor to accomplish, including:

• Develop a vision, goals and objectives for the project with community and stakeholders, including a Public Involvement Plan and provide highly visual public presentations at key milestones throughout project.

• Create a “Report of Best Practices” from across nation and recommend a more "form-based" approach or model appropriate to Austin.

• Assist in conducting final public hearings on zoning code update deliverables, and

• Assist in training city staff to use new code and related manuals in the development review process.

Making the new code fit with current or planned city projects will be an important part of the process, Huffman added. The specifications call for the consultant to incorporate and refine the city's recent and ongoing planning efforts; integrate transportation – especially transit – systems and design with land development, parking and urban design standards; and propose improvements related to the Traffic Impact Analysis requirement, including the possibility of assessing a transportation impact fee for certain types of developments.

The final product will also contain any suggestions for process improvements necessary to ensure that an efficient development review process (the "One Stop Shop") is upheld with the zoning code update.

The subcommittee instructed staff to research how the project would affect some of the development projects coming online—such as SH130 and the TOD—as well as look at some recommended technical changes in the scope of the project before the subcommittee would pass the recommendation on to the full Council. Huffman said her staff would have a complete update at the subcommittee’s September meeting.

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

Council meeting today . . . It could be a long meeting. The Council has scheduled several hearings for 6pm to receive comments on the proposed rate increases for the Water Utility and the drainage fee. They will also take comments on the budgets for the utilities, including Solid Waste Services and Austin Energy . . . At 10:30am, the Council will hear a presentation on plans to reduce Riverside Drive from four lanes to two within Town Lake Park. Those in the know are predicting a split vote on those lane changes . . . This afternoon, the Council will hear budget proposals for the city’s utilities and consider a number of zoning change requests . . . Breathe Easy Happy Hour . . . In honor of the first day of Austin’s new public no smoking ordinance, the American Cancer Society is organizing a Breathe Free Happy Hour. The event begins at 5:30pm at Threadgill’s World Headquarters, at 301 West Riverside. The “Breathe Easy Tour” begins at 7pm at B-Side at 311 Colorado. At 8pm, it moves to the Firehouse Lounge at 605 Brazos, and the last stop is at 9pm at Tambaleo at 302 Bowie St.. . . Go batty! . . . Austin celebrates the arts and its famous bats this weekend at Batfest. The festival will include two stages of live music, 150 arts and crafts booths, carnival, educational displays, celebrity bat breakfast and two million Mexican Free-tail Bats. Outdoor vendors will cook and sell everything from shrimp on a stick to hot dogs and French fries, as well as funnel cakes, lemonade, Cajun, Creole, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, and Italian. Local and national touring bands will perform continually throughout both days of the festival. Admission is $3 per day. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Bat Conservation International. The festival will take place on the Congress Avenue Bridge from 11am to 11pm Saturday, and 11am to 9pm Sunday.

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