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BCP citizens panel backs WTP4 Cortaña site

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 by

The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) passed a resolution last night to support an alternative site for Water Treatment Plant 4, but only upon the condition that the city’s water utility take the lead in finding additional land to complete requirements for Black-Capped Vireo habitat under the BCP permit. The vote was 6-1 to approve the plant site, with Julie Jenkins dissenting.

The vote was one step short of where CAC member Joe Lessard wanted to go, which was to leverage the water plant vote to force the city and county to make a serious joint effort to complete the preserve in four years. Lessard’s own estimates are that the city and county are still 2,500 acres short of critical, and specific, lands for the preserve. In today’s dollars, that’s about $76 million in land remaining to be purchased. Without a concerted effort – both logistically and financially – Lessard fears the preserve will never be completed under the current timetable and revenue estimates.

The fact that Water Treatment Plant 4 will be built on environmentally sensitive land of some kind is almost unavoidable, given that the plant must be on or near Lake Travis with the proper access to tunnels and transmission lines, Lessard said. Taking a step back, though, the bigger question is not whether one site is better than another, but whether the city can afford to destroy established Black-Capped Vireo habitat if it still lacks about 800 acres of vireo habitat before it meets its permit requirements.

"The question that then comes to me is, ‘What is the implication of this, especially if we don’t know where we are in completing the plan?’" Lessard asked the committee.

While the majority of the committee members, including Chair Ted Siff, agreed with Lessard that the completion of the preserve was a critical issue, the majority were not willing to use the water plant as a bargaining chip. Robert Kleeman agreed with Lessard’s concerns but said a vote to require a plan for the completion of the preserve added too much complexity to a motion that already was complicated enough.

Eager to point out new options for revenue, Lessard even provided a chart that noted a theoretical combination of non-bond revenues that could provide about $73 million over the course of four years. Under the plan, Travis County – which has yet to complete its BCP purchases – would carry the heaviest financial burden, issuing up to $25 million in certificates of obligation. Other revenue would come from other sources.

Jim Sussman expressed his admiration for Lessard’s work, but he also was hesitant to approve the motion urging the completion of the preserve. He said the committee simply was adding "rider upon rider" to the motion before the committee.

"I support the notion of trying to encourage completion of the plan as soon as possible," Sussman said. "I even think something like this (financial plan by Lessard) might be a good model, but it’s too ambitious. We’re trying to tack this on to the water treatment plant, and I think it’s out of sync with our recommendations."

Linda Guerrero and Julie Jenkins, however, agreed with Lessard and voted for his motion to base approval of the permit upon completion of the preserve. Those voting against the motion included Siff, Kleeman, Sussman and Larry Runyan.

The motion that did pass the committee, proposed by Siff, was to recommend the swap of the current 102-acre water treatment plant tract for the less environmentally sensitive Cortaña tract, but only if the water utility agreed to lead the plan to find the 2,000 acres of Black-Capped Vireo habitat necessary to complete the BCP permit. It’s Lessard’s opinion that the preserve has about 900 acres of habitat, up to a potential 1,200 acres within the targeted acquisition. That leaves a balance of 800 acres that Lessard estimates will have to come from land outside the boundaries of land targeted for the BCP.

The group also agreed that the approval of the land swap was contingent upon the city’s ceding the 928-acre Little Barton Creek tract for use in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. A portion of that tract may be habitat for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

A friendly amendment was added to set the clock ticking on the plan, giving the Wildlands Conservation Unit of the water utility until March 1 to come up with a plan to identify potential land, plus a plan to finance, acquire and manage the lands. The city and county, the preserve permit holders, would be responsible for securing the land.

Kevin Connally, Travis County BCP staff member, cautioned the committee when it came to putting time limits on planning. In similar cases, the county attorney’s office has considered such planning as starting the state clock ticking on preserve purchases. If that is the case, the permit holders would have four years to purchase the land.

While the Science Advisory Committee spent the bulk of its time earlier in the week discussing the way Alan Plummer and Associates weighed the merits of each potential site, the Citizens Advisory Committee, driven by Lessard’s discussion, was more concerned with the bulk of the preserve that has yet to be purchased by Travis County. Jenkins was the only member of the CAC to spend much time questioning the consultant’s evaluation of the various sites.

Last night’s meeting also identified the specific tracts under consideration, which Alan Plummer and Associates declined to do at the Science Advisory Committee. Those sites, all somewhere near RM 620 and FM 2222 in Bee Caves, included a portion of the Cortaña site; the publicly owned Park West site; about 60 acres available on the 400-acre Ribelin tract; or a portion of the Schlumberger tract, which is currently under contract to Concordia University and the original plant site, 102 acres at the headwaters of Bull Creek.

The committee separated Lessard’s proposal from the water treatment plant vote but left the motion on the table for further consideration. Siff said the motion – to encourage the city and county to pursue a more aggressive timetable on the BCP – would be the first order of business the next time the committee reconvenes.

Council members back new taxi franchise rules

Council Member Mike Martinez, who has voiced concerns about the way the city awards new taxi franchises, will lead an effort to change the rules, eliminating the current lottery system and picking a new taxi company based on the companies’ qualification. Martinez and Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Jennifer Kim said Tuesday they support changes that would eliminate the only lottery award of a contract that the city uses. A spokesman for Mayor Will Wynn said he expects the Mayor to agree to that change.

Martinez said he plans to follow the lead of the Urban Transportation Commission, which on Monday put the finishing touches on a set of criteria for evaluating the three companies seeking a new franchise. The Council is scheduled to vote on the matter on Thursday.

The UTC also drafted a recommendation to the City Council urging members to change the city ordinance and instead use the evaluation matrix crafted by the commission. Martinez said yesterday he did not have minutes from the UTC meeting so he was not sure whether he would suggest adding more requirements to the new ordinance.

The evaluation sheet crafted by the commission includes criteria in four broad categories: core qualifications, management, operations, and community concerns. The UTC listed among the core qualifications for firms their prior experience in the industry and their financial resources. Consideration for the ownership makeup of the applicants is one of the criteria listed under the category of community concerns.

The UTC suggests rating firms based on minority and women-owned business status, although cab company representatives suggested other criteria. "I came prepared to suggest that you more explicitly say that your preference is for driver-owned companies," said Doug Young, an attorney for Lone Star Cab, which applied for a taxi franchise in 2003 as an employee-owned "co-op".

Other cab companies disagreed over the importance of being employee-owned. "I think there’s problems as to defining that and enforcing it. I think all three applicants that have applied are for-profit corporations," said attorney Jeff Howard, who represents Capitol City Cab. "Is every single driver for these companies going to be a shareholder? Is it going to be a non-profit co-operative? I think there are a lot of questions…and I don’t know that it gets you to a merit-based, most qualified."

While Commissioners did want to encourage good employer-employee relations, they eventually agreed that defining and enforcing a driver-owned provision would not prove to be feasible, and that was not part of their final recommendation to Council.

Hays studies lower tax rate for 2007

Hays County property owners may see a slightly lower tax rate and a new Justice Center come out of next year’s budget.

On Tuesday, Hays County Commissioners looked at recommendations for the proposed 2007 fiscal year budget, which includes a suggested tax rate of $0.4500 and a preliminary estimated budget of $77,786,459. While it’s not much of a decrease, the new proposed tax rate is slightly smaller than the current rate of $0.4554.

A public hearing on the budget will take place Sept. 12, and the county clerk will file the final approved budget Sept. 29.

The proposed 2007 budget boasts $1.5 million for capital improvements – $1 million more than the 2006 budget – that could go towards the purchase or construction of a new Justice Center and precinct buildings. The proposed budget also features $200,000 for improvements to I-35 in the Kyle area, an area affected by the new Cabela’s.

It may come as no surprise to Central Texans that 2007’s budget reveals some rapid growth in Hays County. According to David Valle, chief appraiser for the Hays Central Appraisal District, the total property value in the county will increase from $7.3 billion to $8.2 billion in the 2007 fiscal year. Property not previously on the tax rolls accounts for $4.9 million of that increase.

And while Hays County won’t be building anything approaching the Trans Texas Corridor, roads expenditures will increase in 2007 from $8,427,931 to $9,128,621. Social and community service grants are taking a smaller leap forward, with an increase from $748,815 to $753,218. County Auditor Bill Herzog said the proposed budget has additional funding for the Uhland Volunteer Fire Department, Chisholm Trail Fire & Rescue and increases to the South Hays County EMS.

"It looks good," Herzog said of the preliminary 2007 budget. "We’ve got money enough for pay raises and money for new buildings."

The proposed budget also recommends the creation of seven new full or part-time employees, including deputy constables, a sergeant and traffic officers, at a cost of $350,000.

There will be some additional costs in the 2007 fiscal year as well. Herzog said the loss of Victims of Crime Act state funding accounted for $75,000 in additional spending in the district attorney’s office this year. That increase means the county will absorb the cost of personnel previously funded by grants.

Hays County, like jurisdictions across the country, is also feeling the pinch of higher fuel prices and health insurance costs. The 2007 proposed budget includes $858,760 for fuel, which is $159,219 more than fuel cost in 2006. The budget also calls for a 10 percent increase in health care insurance costs, with the annual price tag for a full time employee up to $6,719.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Zonarama today . . . City Council members meet in a special called session at 1pm today in order to catch up on an overload of pending zoning cases. However, due to posting problem, a bundle of neighborhood plans in the East Riverside area – known as EROC—will be postponed. EROC includes the proposed East Riverside/Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Plan, the Riverside Neighborhood Plan, the Pleasant Valley Neighborhood Plan and the Parker Lane Neighborhood plan. At 5pm, Council members will get a briefing on the proposed ordinance that codifies the Commercial Design Standards, followed by a 6pm public hearing on and possible approval of that same ordinance. All in all, it should cut a few hours off of Thursday’s Council meeting, which has 76 items on the agenda . . . McCracken preview . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken holds a news conference at 11:00 this morning to preview the Commercial Design Standards ordinance that will be discussed at tonight’s Council meeting. Several of the stakeholders who have worked for the past several months to draft the ordinance will join McCracken at Jo’s Coffee on 2nd Street across from City Hall to discuss the standards, which the Council could vote on tonight . . . Now registered. . . The City of Austin gained two new official lobbyists on Monday. Former Mayor Gus Garcia registered to represent RZ Communications and Las Manitas Avenue Café—which is threatened by the proposed redevelopment of their Congress Avenue block. Garcia is working for Lopez-Phelps & Associates . . . Howard Falkenberg of Staats Falkenberg & Partners, Inc. also registered to lobby for the Lost Creek MUD, which opposes city annexation . . . More Cap Metro labor pains. . . Just when Capital Metro thought it had its labor problems under control, a squabble between UT shuttle bus drivers and their employer could become a major problem if the dispute remains unresolved. According to The UT Daily Texan, Amalgamated Transit Union local 1549 and First Transit will go into arbitration on Aug. 17 to decide the fate of four workers who were not rehired when the contract changed hands from the former holder, ATC/Vancom. The dispute turns on the question of whether or not First Transit is obligated to accept the contract as is, said Scott Lansing, general manager for First Transit's Austin office. Union officials say because First Transit has not honored the contract it accepted, UT shuttle workers have been effectively working without a contract for a year, First Transit is a subcontractor under Capital Metro. Capital Metro provides buses for the University, and First Transit hires the drivers. UT’s fall classes start in about three weeks . . . Meetings. . . The Resource Management Commission, Water Subcommittee meets at 11:30am at Waller Creek Plaza . . . The Community Technology & Telecommunications Commission meets at 7:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission meets at 6:30pm in room 105 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . Chandler Road project to begin . . . Williamson County Commissioners have awarded the Chandler Road Phase 2 project to Rodman Construction Company, and the construction contracts have been executed. Phase 2 extends Chandler Road from CR 110 to FM 1660. TXU is currently completing final outstanding utility relocations. Construction is expected to be underway by Sept. 1. The first phase of the project will be the CR 107 access road, connecting existing CR 107 to the Chandler Road bridge, currently under construction by the Texas Department of Transportation as part of the SH 130 project. The project is anticipated to take 330 days to complete . . . New Finance Director. . . San Marcos City Manager Dan O’Leary Tuesday announced the appointment of Rosie Vela, director of finance of the City of Richardson, Texas, as the new finance director for the City of San Marcos. Vela, with a 25-year career in accounting, budgeting and finance, will begin her duties in San Marcos October 2. She has been finance director in Richardson, a Dallas suburb, for 10 years. Vela will manage a staff of 45 people in the Finance, Municipal Court, Utility Billing, and Information Technology departments. She will be responsible for all areas of budgeting, accounting, audits, tax issues and implementation of a $115 million municipal budget.

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