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Money questions continue to divide members of CAMPO Board

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Worries that local funding policies might not meet federal requirements were front and center at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting Monday night.


Earlier this year, CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board set up a funding mechanism to distribute $104 million between local and regional projects for 2014 through 2018. The local portion of $47.77 million was allocated to the six counties represented by CAMPO based on those counties’ population. The Federal Highway Administration warned CAMPO that may not meet federal requirements.


CAMPO Interim Director Joe Cantalupo explained that while the split between local and regional funds appeared to be OK with federal highway officials, the agency would like CAMPO to add more steps to its process, and do “a more traditional call for projects.”


Cantalupo said that CAMPO staff was working with the federal highway agency and the Texas Department of Transportation to create a process that recognized the needs of the local governments and identify their funding priorities.


“We’re going to go back, and we’re going to redefine the process and define it, hopefully, in a way where the board gets to do what it would like to do – which is make sure the distribution of funds is fair to local governments,” said Cantalupo. “We’re hoping to make the criteria more manageable.”


Council Member Chris Riley pointed out that this trouble could help inform the search for a new CAMPO director.


“Ideally, we would have staff that are well-versed in the federal requirements,” said Riley. “This is a major distribution of funds that we are talking about.”


Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett explained that the mechanism that was being called into question “wasn’t arbitrary,” and was similar to one used in the past without incident.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell expressed concern that redefining how local funds are distributed could reopen a contentious discussion.


“That was an important compromise – and a controversial one – that we reached here on this policy board, and I think that would be disruptive to undo that part,” said Leffingwell.


Though Cantalupo said that he thought that a new mechanism could be developed “fairly quickly,” the problem has already had a concrete impact on the board.


In a separate resolution, the board voted to formalize its Finance Committee as the entity authorized to make recommendations to the Transportation Policy Board on all decisions related to the allocation of state and federal funding to transportation-related projects.


That resolution passed with Riley voting in opposition.


“I think that the responsibilities that we are talking about that would be handled by the finance committee are central to the most important tasks that this board has to deal with,” said Riley. “This is what we are here for. As painful as it is, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to get immersed in all of the issues that we are talking about the Finance Committee taking on. I will note that I am concerned that the City of Austin will have one vote on this exclusive committee of seven.”


“There has been some concern in the Austin community about the dwindling influence of the city on the policy board’s decisions,” said Riley. “And now we are talking about getting down to a much smaller share of authority within the Finance Committee.”


A motion by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole that would add Riley to the committee was ultimately withdrawn. Conley said that though he had “no issue” with that consideration, but he wasn’t sure whether amendments would need to be made to bylaws, or whether he could appoint committee members at his discretion.


“My question is just one of procedure,” said Conley. “By our bylaws, the chair has that authority. Of course, this policy board creates those bylaws and can create those bylaws. So, I’m just talking about a logistical issue here.”


About six minutes earlier, Conley added Capital Metro Board Member David Siebold to that committee after Siebold expressed concern that Cap Metro was not represented.


“If Cap Metro wants to participate on the Finance Committee, I will just appoint Cap Metro,” said Conley. “I appreciate your interest.”

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