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Prop 4 winners now must focus on fundraising

Monday, November 13, 2006 by

Backers of Proposition 4 on last Tuesday’s Austin Bond Proposal ballot were so overjoyed with the outcome, they may still be toasting their win at the polls. But once the parties are finally over, work begins in earnest for several artistic, social and cultural groups who will benefit from the public money coming their way.

Proposition 4 – one of seven bond Propositions totaling $567.4 million on the ballot – will put $31.5 million in public money into a number of community ventures, including a new theater, film studio improvements and cultural activity centers for African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians. It passed with about 57 percent of the vote, the smallest margin of the seven propositions.

“It has really widened the circle of supporters and the group of people who are enthusiastic about the possibility of this civic endeavor,” said Ann Ciccolella, managing director of the Zachary Scott Theate r, Prop 4’s largest beneficiary. “Arts facilities are something that are not always included in a bond election and we’re really grateful that we were included.” The theater group contributed more than $50,000 to the I’m for 4 PAC, the coalition of arts and cultural groups supporting the proposition.

Ted Siff, treasurer of the I’m for 4 PAC, said for the groups to eventually get their money, they will need to get their projects scheduled on the City of Austin’s Capital Improvement Projects calendar sometime during the next seven years.

“The vote was just to authorize the bonds, which means that the money is not yet in the bank,” he said. “The first bonds, as I understand it, won’t be sold until next year, so the speed at which any of money will go the cultural arts facilities will depend on how well each of the six different projects makes their case to the city.”

Of the $31.5 million approved, the funds are apportioned to these projects:

• Zachary Scott Theater, $10 million, towards the construction of a new 500-seat facility to replace the current 230-seat theater;

• African-American Cultural and Heritage Facility, $1.5 million, to renovate the historic Hamilton-Deitrich Home at 912 E. 11th St. and build a 3,500 square foot Cultural Center next to the home;

• Asian American Resource Center (AARC), $5 million for a library, classrooms, community activity center, and cultural exhibition and display space;

• Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC), $5 million, to build additional classroom, improvements to the plaza and storage space;

• Austin Film Studios, $5 million, for soundproofing, electrical improvements, and a fire-suppression system; and

• Mexic-Arte Museum, $5 million, towards the building of a new location on the campus of the MACC.

Each group will be required to negotiate the terms of their funding with the city. Some groups, such as Zach Scott, AARC and Mexic-Arte, may be required to “match” the city funds with money they have raised towards the projects, while others may simply need to convince the Council they are ready for their funding.

Ciccolella said Zach Scott is looking at going to the city in about 18 months for its funding.

“We will be going back into the quiet phase of fundraising,” she said. “We will be working to match the $10 million dollars, so we will be putting our shoulder to the wheel. Within the next year and a half, we hope to have the majority of the money, and we’d love to be in that first group of projects funded by the city.”

The city plans to sell the $567.4 million in bonds in roughly equal amounts over the next seven years, starting in 2007. That would mean about $81 million a year towards parts of the overall package.

Donato Rodriguez with the Mexican American Cultural Center Advisory Board said his group’s project is already under way, and the bond funds are aimed at a future expansion.

“We’re under construction right now on seven acres on Town Lake,” he said. “We anticipate Phase One of our project to be completed sometime in June 2007. The bond money we asked for would be for additional classrooms and spaces that we need for the center. We will build that addition once that money is released to us.”

Mexic-Arte’s Executive Director Sylvia Orozco said her group’s goal is a new $25 million facility on the MACC Campus.

“The long-term goal is to have the new building in place,” she said. “We have the $5 million in bond funds to build on, but from there, we will need to raise money from private sources, and even perhaps from some state and federal grant programs. It’s a public-private fundraising strategy.”

Democrats sweep into Hays County courthouse

The morning after Tuesday’s elections brought a sweeping party change to Hays County’s Commissioners Court with three new Democrats, Pct. 2 Commissioner-elect Jeff Barton recalled a joke he heard from a constituent hours into the long wait for election returns. Last Election Day, Barton said, Hays County residents woke up in Williamson County. This year, they woke up in South Austin.

Barton, Pct. 4 Commissioner-elect Karen Ford and County Judge-elect Liz Sumter, all Democrats, insist partisanship won’t play a part in the new court. But there’s no denying the new commissioners and judge, replacing veteran Republicans, reflect a new mood in Hays County and potentially a new style of handling the rapid growth.

Hays County Commissioners Court’s three new kids on the block attributed the flip from Republican-controlled court to Democrat stronghold to a variety of factors, including new residents in the area, a desire for fresh leadership from veteran residents and a change in the national mood that favors Democrats.

“I don’t think just because they’re Democrats, things are going to change,” said Sumter of the party change on the court. “I think actually it’s the people who are important. We’ve elected three very forward thinking progressive folks who understand fiscal responsibility and certainly know about development.” Sumter beat incumbent County Judge Jim Powers in a tight race, with 52 percent of the vote.

Running a campaign that advocated a coordinated growth strategy for the county, Sumter has emphasized for months the need for a comprehensive plan that will help county officials plan for economic development, transportation and water needs.

Sumter acknowledged the fine balance that exists between bringing viable growth the Hays County and maintaining the area’s limited natural resources. Water, which has been a hot-button issue in the last several months of Hays County’s Commissioners Court meetings, will be a key factor in development, Sumter said. While bringing in surface water from other counties may be a good short-term solution, she said it won’t be the magic bullet.

Hays County needs to also preserve the water resources it has, Sumter said, and strategies like rainwater harvesting and conservation will be key to maintaining adequate water supplies.

Sumter also said she will revisit the idea of pass through toll financing, something Powers embraced.

“I don’t think it’s a real good idea that the county takes on state responsibility,” Sumter said, adding she worries the county will be reimbursed poorly if at all for the massive amount of roadwork it would be taking on under the agreement.

Sumter may have her work cut out for her in reversing work already done towards a pass through financing agreement. In August commissioners unanimously voted to authorize Powers to strike an agreement with the Texas Transportation Commission, beginning the process of road upgrades that the county would initially finance. The transportation commission has agreed that with a per-vehicle fee of $0.14, it will reimburse Hays County $133,170,000 over a period of several years. According to the initial agreement, the commission will pay a minimum of $6.65 million and a maximum of $13.3 million until the total amount is paid off.

If Sumter wants to revisit pass through financing and economic development, she won’t have to go it alone on the new court, though. Ford also said she wants to take a close look at economic development, residential growth and water resources in the form of a comprehensive plan, and identified those issues as the most pressing for a rapidly growing Hays County.

Ford beat incumbent Pct. 4 Commissioner Russ Molenaar in another tight race, with 53 percent of the vote.

“They all kind of play into each other, and putting a comprehensive plan together so we can deal with all these things will be important,” Ford said of development, water and growth. “The county’s never really done planning for what’s coming up, and that’s going to be the critical thing we do.”

Ford said one of the biggest differences between the new court and the former leadership could be the collaboration and open partnerships that county leaders will forge in order to plan for growth.

Voters perceived a “good old boy” system in the previous court, Ford said, and likely became frustrated that developers were getting more attention from commissioners than the county’s residents were. That will hopefully change with the new leadership, she said, as they embrace new tools and ideas for positive growth.

Barton also voiced a hope that the new court will bring cooperation and transparency into county business.

“People are…looking for an eye to the future and a willingness, an eagerness even, to collaborate and work well and efficiently together,” Barton said. “Certainly in my end of the county, people feel like there was a commissioner who had an antiquated view of the duties of a commissioner, considering we’re a high growth, urbanizing county.”

Barton beat incumbent Pct. 2 Commissioner Susie Carter with 55 percent of the vote. This year’s victory may have been especially sweet for Barton, who held the Pct. 2 commissioner’s seat and lost it to Carter in 2000 when a more Republican-friendly mood swept the nation.

Carter emphasized her advocacy for taxpayers in Hays County, and often voiced the only dissent against bond packages and other agenda items she deemed too costly for Hays residents.

Barton, who is a manager at a land planning office in Austin, wants to embrace a plan that will usher in growth and help the county maintain its resources and character. Often at odds with Carter, he accused her of being obstructionist. Throughout his campaign, Barton said the county should take authority over development and set aside land for new roads.

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

Looking for the City Clerk ? . . City Clerk Shirley Gentry and her staff have temporarily vacated their first floor offices to allow construction of the new Austin Java Café at City Hall. Gentry is on the 4th floor, while much of the staff has taken space in the City Auditor's Office on the 2nd floor. They were told it would only be for a week. We'll keep track of that and the much-anticipated café . . . Watch your water . . . The Austin Water Utility will begin annual wastewater averaging Nov. 14, to calculate wastewater charges for its customers in the 2007 – 2008 service year. Between November and March, each customer's water use is measured for three consecutive monthly billing periods. The water use for the two monthly billing periods with the lowest daily total is averaged and is the basis for wastewater charges for the year. Monthly bills are based on the customer's wastewater average or actual water use, whichever is lower. Bills will show new wastewater averages in April 2007. The Utility uses late fall and winter months to calculate wastewater averages because less outdoor water is used during this period and measurements better show indoor use. Customers concerned about wastewater costs should conserve water during the averaging months. For specific dates and details on wastewater averaging periods, as well as water conservation, go to . . . Meetings . . . The Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee meets at 12pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . A Special Called Meeting of the Design Commission meets in room 2017 at City Hall . . . The RMMA Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm at the Region 13 Education Service Center, 5701 Springdale Rd . . .The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee will hold a special called meeting at 5pm in the City Hall news conference room at 5pm.

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