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City Council keeps it brief so staff can continue flood relief

Friday, November 8, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Austin City Council cut Thursday’s meeting short in order to allow city employees to continue with flood relief duties in the city, but they spent enough time on the dais to pass two significant measures for those affected by the rushing waters.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell took a moment to note the two flood-related items. The first waived permitting fees for those affected by last week’s flood. And the second ratified a proclamation made by the mayor Monday, declaring a state of disaster in the city. Unless ratified by Council, the proclamation would have only remained in effect for seven days.


City Council approved both items unanimously.


With the state of emergency ratified, the state of local disaster will now remain in effect until it is terminated, in writing, by Leffingwell.


Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey told In Fact Daily that, so far, 105 permits had been issued as of Wednesday. He explained that since he didn’t have the power to waive those fees outright, he strategically had those seeking permits sign an agreement that they would pay the fees Nov. 22.


In all, the waivers are expected to cost the city $466,400 in unrealized revenue. The estimates are based on the approximately 1,100 homes that have flood water damage in the city, with an estimate of $424 in permitting fees for each house.


Because Council passed the ordinance waiving those fees before that date, owners of damaged homes will no longer have to pay. The city is waiving all residential permitting and development fees that are required to repair or reconstruct buildings because of the flood. Those fees include permitting, plan review, inspection, demolition and variance fees.


Additionally, the ordinance authorized City Manager Marc Ott to reimburse towing fees for the approximately 100 cars that were towed to allow city officials to inspect damaged property.


Guernsey explained that, by law, if there is damage to a house that totals more than half of its value, it must be torn down. Because the flood hit many lower-cost homes, that threshold is lower.


The fee waivers are only a small part of ongoing programs the city is implementing to address the flood. As reported earlier by In Fact Daily, the city is also preparing to expand its existing buyout program, with city officials planning to add 115 more houses to the program following the Halloween Flood.


Since 1999, the city has purchased about 320 of the 483 properties that they say are at risk in the Onion Creek 25-year flood plain. It is this area that was devastated by the last week’s flood.

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