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Watershed department plans to raise fees, cut costs

Monday, June 8, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Expect a thorough review of Watershed Protection and Development Review Department’s budget this year, now that a long-time employee of the department heads the Environmental Board’s budget subcommittee.

On Friday, consultant and Board Member Phil Moncada, a one-time city employee, emphasized his budget subcommittee recommendations will go to the full Environmental Board on June 17 for a vote, and that board’s recommendation will go to Council as advice, not direction. The subcommittee met with various department officials on Friday. Moncada’s knowledge of the department seemed so thorough that he could question every fee increase and each employee addition at a level of minutiae that no commission member – and certainly no Council member – could match.

According to documentation presented at a Friday workshop session, Watershed Protection notes a net decrease in spending in the upcoming budget of $700,000 under the current amended budget. The department expects attrition, mostly from vacant inspector positions, to provide a required $1 million budget cut. A total of 197 employees are in the department with 30 employees associated with right of way management transfers to the Austin Transportation Department. Another seven employees – tap inspectors – will go to the Austin Water Utility.

Moncada ‘s committee was nothing if not thorough at its meeting last Friday. Every proposed fee increase was justified. Every employee addition was questioned for purpose, especially given that development has slowed down in recent months. And both Moncada and Commissioner Rodney Ahart were interested in knowing how the department was going to meet new budget cuts by attrition.

If Council accepts the department’s recommendations, it will include increases in a number of fees: minor increases for drainage fees; double, to $100, for re-inspection fees for site plans; a new commercial pond re-inspection fee, at $100, that will mean a new employee; plus higher fees for inspections; traffic impact analysis; review of larger-scale subdivision construction plans; and even driveway costs.

Even the Development Assistance Center’s research and consulting will result in a new fee if the person would take more than 20 minutes of assistance. That’s the average time most people need for assistance. Beyond that, a visitor would need to pay $25 per hour.

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