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Council may extend extra pay to 25 percent of staff

Friday, September 8, 2006 by

Three members of the City Council said Thursday they expect to approve a budget next week that includes a 5 percent raise for a few more employees—25 percent of city General Fund employees—than initially anticipated. The rest of those who are performing satisfactorily will receive the customary 3.5 percent wage increase.

City management had proposed giving the 5 percent raise to 20 percent of the workforce as has been done in the past for those employees deemed to have "exceeded expectations." Those who "meet expectations" will receive 3.5 raises in their Oct. 20 paychecks.

Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, the acknowledged budget expert among the Council, told In Fact Daily, "We have a lot of people that do a really, really good job…a lot of people that deserve recognition." While she could not say for sure what her colleagues would do on Monday, she said, "I would think that (25 percent) would likely be approved."

Dunkerley said the additional raise would cost the General Fund $105,000. Enterprise fund departments, such as the Austin Water Utility and Austin Energy, are not included in those calculations but would likely follow suit.

Council Members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell said they too would expect the 25 percent level to win approval on Monday. Sworn Austin police officers (APD) receive a raise of 2 percent above whatever regular rank-and-file employees meeting their bosses’ expectations receive. Austin firefighters get a 5.5 percent increase, as negotiated in their contract. Pay-for-performance is a tool the city uses to keep public safety salaries from increasing more.

Dunkerley, a former Assistant City Manager and CFO said the Council would also likely decide to offer extra stipends to fund bilingual employees in 70 different positions where a second language is important for customer service or safety.

Jack Kirfman of the employees' union AFSCME has been lobbying the Council to increase the number employees receiving the "exceeds expectations" designation. He said he was working to get that designation for a third of the city workforce. Council members indicated that they could not fund that great an increase and do the other things they wanted to do in the next year.

Dunkerley said she expects her colleagues to approve two economic development items, including a wireless incubator and an additional $50,000 to help lower income residents prepare their taxes. The latter, she said, would generate an equal amount of revenue in sales tax that the city would otherwise not have. She said if just one hit product results from the wireless incubator it could spur an untold amount of economic development among new businesses.

The city also hopes to fund transitional housing for acute mental health patients in this year's budget, she said. This is "a big ticket item," to assist 60 mental health patients, Dunkerley said.

Health district offers cuts as ordered

Some reserves, operations, health care cut

Under orders from the Commissioners Court to bring back a budget with a lower tax rate, the Travis County Healthcare District Board of Managers voted Thursday to make up the difference by pulling more money from its reserve funds and making some cuts in both its operations and health care budget.

District representatives were told that their proposed tax rate of 7.47 cents per $100 valuation was too close to the roll-back tax rate. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 7, 2006) Commissioners said the tax rate should be reduced to 7.34 cents, with a budget to match.

The district is proposing a $135 million budget for 2007, with significant new health care delivery programs including expanded psychiatric care and revamping the former Children’s Hospital space at Brackenridge.

CEO Patricia Young told the board that the tax rate cut meant that they needed make revenue increases or budget cuts equal to $978,777. She then laid out four options for managers to consider.

Option 1 was to pull the entire $978,777 from the district’s reserve funds. Young pointed out that the district was already pulling $2.8 million from its reserve, recently bolstered by a $30 million federal grant.

Option 2 was to pull $500,000 from the reserve funds, and cut $478,777 from potential MAP volume increases and a Child Wellness program.

Option 3 was to cut the full amount from the healthcare and operating expenses, cutting all of the major programs in proportion to the overall budget.

Option 4 was to cut the entire $978,777 from the Emerging Needs budget.

Manager Tom Coopwood argued that the best answer was to take entire amount out of the reserves. "We have decided that we want to go forward with these programs," he said. "We should take it out of the reserves and not decrease our funding. It would only be about one-twentieth of our reserves."

Others were not as convinced that taking reserve funds was the best idea.

"We are already taking $2.8 million out of the reserve fund," said Manager Tom Young. "We would just be taking more and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go. I don’t think we should be spending reserve funds on ongoing programs."

A consensus formed around Option 2, but Manager Bobbie Barker suggested that all of the cuts not come out of the health care budget. She suggested taking $100,000 out of the Consulting and Communications budget, $378,777 from the Enhancements budget, and $500,000 from the Reserves. The Enhancements budget, which brings improvements to current programs, was initially listed at $4.735 million, and the Consulting and Communications budget was listed at $913,000.

The board approved the change on a 5-1 vote, with Coopwood voting no, and Rosie Mendoza and Donald Patrick absent. The revised budget will be presented to County Commissioners next Tuesday.

Eastsiders not sold on bond package

The city may be selling its bond package as East Austin friendly, but there’s a faction of East Austin residents who just aren’t buying it.

Council Member Mike Martinez hosted a town hall meeting at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center last night. As was the case with Council Member Jennifer Kim’s town hall meeting in Oak Hill, the audience was sparse and almost evenly divided between community members and city staff. And, as has been the case in many past East Austin town hall meetings, the distrust of city staff and city programs was high, especially when it came to the city’s plans to help East Austin.

City Manager Toby Futrell talked about the budget and bonds. Planner George Adams and Jana McCann of ROMA explained the Saltillo station-planning project. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) who serves on the Saltillo Community Advisory Group, talked about the ambitious goals for affordable housing at Saltillo. Then it was the audience’s turn, and frustration was high over issues such as gentrification and tax relief.

"This presentation is for financial people, for bankers, for developers, for people who are dealing in big money," resident Lino Mendoza told Martinez and a panel that included Council Members Sheryl Cole, Brewster McCracken, Lee Leffingwell and Rodriguez. "You’re not talking to my community. We’re not college grads. We’re not even high school grads. We’re just ordinary people. Several people have said affordable housing. Affordable for whom? Affordable for the people who want to move here?"

City Manager Toby Futrell invited Community Development Director Paul Hilgers to the microphone, who explained that "affordable" translated to rental and home prices that drilled down to income levels even federal dollars didn’t reach. The bulk of the funding in the affordable housing proposition, which totals $55 million, will be dedicated to rental units for families that make between $20,000 and $30,000. In the case of homes, the support would go to families making $40,000 or less.

Following up on Hilger’s comments, Futrell said the bulk of funding in the November bond issue would go to South, North and Central East Austin, from the roads to the parks to the drainage and, most likely, the affordable housing. Futrell said the bonds, first and foremost, would be an investment in East Austin.

"You’re wondering what this means to your community and what it means to you?" Futrell said, paraphrasing Mendoza’s comments. "You look at this bond package, and when you take out the Central Library, I would say 60 to 70 percent of the dollars in this bond package will go to North, South and Central East Austin."

That did not placate the audience. Small business owner Rudy Malveaux talked about how public investment had hurt, rather than helped, 11th and 12th streets. Others spoke about being priced out of life-long homes. And Susana Almanza of PODER spoke of the community’s desire to maintain a real mix of affordability at Saltillo, especially given that public land was being used for the project.

"We need to make sure that affordability happens," Almanza said. "Saltillo is the gateway to gentrification. If Saltillo goes, then we’re flooded out completely. That’s why we worked on this project, to make sure the flood gates don’t open."

Almanza said the city needed more than affordable housing at Saltillo. East Austin is a neighborhood of families, and she encouraged the city to build homes and three-bedroom apartments rather than upscale lofts and condos for single adults.

A number of other people spoke, including Scottie Ivory, who said that prostitution was on the upswing in East Austin neighborhoods. Gilbert Rivera spoke of the problems with Boggy Creek. And Rivera’s wife, Jane, asked that more effort be put into preserving the historic Downs Field, where many of the city’s early Little League games were played.

Futrell pledged to address each of the concerns. The Boggy Creek issue, she said, was among the top priorities of the bond issue and would cost $24 million to restore and fix.

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County sets Cortaña hearing . . . County Judge Sam Biscoe has written a letter to the City Council notifying them that the county will hold its Chapter 26 hearing on the Cortaña tract on October 4. The commissioners will post the item for action after the 6pm public hearing, Biscoe writes. The city wants to use 45 acres of Cortaña for Water Treatment Plant 4 . . . New task force takes off . . . Austin’s new Zero Energy Home task force (ZEH), which held its first meeting this week, has elected Peter Pfeiffer of Barley + Pfeiffer Architects as its chair. Pfeiffer is a nationally known designer of energy efficient homes. Richard Morgan of Austin Energy’s Green Building Program is the vice chair. The goal of the task force is to rewrite city codes in such a way as to meet a goal of building homes that use no more energy than they can produce by 2015. The task force will meet twice a month . . . Familiar faces… Former Council Member Raul Alvarez was at Mike Martinez’s town hall meeting last night. He kept his remarks short but promised to be in contact, via e-mail, if he needed to say more on the city’s affordable housing initiative . . . Contributions aid Child Center . . . The new Williamson County Children's Advocacy Center is $10,000 richer because of a donation from XYCarb, a local semiconductor company. XYCarb is the Georgetown branch of a Netherlands-based technology firm. The company is the first to offer a contribution to the new Children's Advocacy Center, which will offer counseling, treatment and protection to hundreds of victims of child abuse each year. "This is the kind of generosity that encourages others to support the Children's Activity Center," says John Bradley, the Williamson County District Attorney and president of the board at the center. The unsolicited donation will be presented to the center at today’s groundbreaking ceremony . . . Texas Tejano Breakfast . . . The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will partner with TexasTejano.com in hosting the Texas Tejano Breakfast. This colorful event kicking off the 3rd Annual Official Tejano Heritage Month celebration will take place from 9am to 11:30am Saturday on the Southside Capitol Grounds. In conjunction with lively Tejano Music playing, event goers will be treated to over 800 breakfast tacos and additional refreshments served free of charge. The second part of the morning will be dedicated to the ribbon cutting for the "A Tejano Son of Texas" Traveling Exhibit at the Capitol Visitors Center. This world-class exhibit helps portray the role Tejanos played as scouts, surveyors, Texas Rangers, Ranchers and government officials during the development of Texas in the 1700’s and 1800’s. . . . County honors MCDaniel . . . Williamson County will dedicate the entrance road into Berry Springs Park and Preserve as Tom McDaniel Parkway and will dedicate a park bench in his memory. The dedication on Sept 20 is open to the public. The county purchased the park bench with donations from county employees and the public. Pct. 3 Commissioner Tom McDaniel was elected on Tuesday, November 2, 2004. He was sworn into office on November 8, 2004. He passed away suddenly on February 28, 2006, due to a heart attack.

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