Friday, June 19, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Council to disperse quarter-cent fund “equitably”

On Thursday, City Council took the first step in a plan to disperse the $21.8 million remaining in the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Quarter-Cent Fund “equitably across all Council districts” for transportation and mobility improvement projects.

In a resolution, Council directed Transportation Department and Public Works Department staff to work with each Council member and Mayor Steve Adler to identify district-specific and citywide transportation needs and develop a list of proposed projects for the Mobility Committee to discuss at its Aug. 5 meeting.

The resolution also includes a request that the Mobility Committee submit its recommendations to Council for consideration at its meeting by Aug. 27.

Council voted 10-0-1 in favor of the resolution, with Council Member Ora Houston abstaining.

Council Member Sheri Gallo proposed that Council include language in the resolution explicitly stating that the city may use the funds in conjunction with the Neighborhood Partnering Program, which allows residents to provide matches to city funding.

The funds that Council plans to distribute are the product of an interlocal agreement that the city entered into with Capital Metro in the early 2000s. In that agreement, Capital Metro agreed to provide the city with one-fourth of every cent that it collected as part of the sales tax that it levies within the city over a period that lasted between 2001 and 2004.

The arrangement yielded $139.4 million in funds for city transportation projects. So far, the city has spent $113.4 million of those funds and has allocated $4.3 million to certain projects, leaving $21.8 million available.

The interlocal agreement requires that any transportation projects the city spends the funds on meet one or more of the following criteria: “enhances regional mobility, supports public transit, provides leverage for federal or private funds, adds to an existing program, or expedites a critical mobility project.”

Council also recommended that the projects address “transportation safety, improved access to schools, new traffic signals, existing infrastructure needs, traffic calming, improved access to transit,” or any of the requirements set forth in the agreement.

In addition, Council recommended that staff use some of the projects that speakers proposed at the Mobility Committee meeting on June 3 as examples of potential candidates for the funds.

One of the major issues that Council identified in the discussion leading up to the vote is the fact that it has not yet developed a clear definition of what equitable distribution entails.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the Mobility Committee, said that Council will have to develop that definition as the process moves along. “I don’t think we can answer that question without having a list of projects in front of us,” she said.

Kitchen suggested that equitable distribution could refer to the city spending an equal amount in each district, the projects having equal value for each district, the projects having an equal impact on each district or some other metric.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo commented on the complexities of the resolution. “What happens in one area of the town certainly may benefit constituents in another,” she said.

Council Member Delia Garza commented on the potential for projects to span districts. “I’d definitely want to support a project that helps support several districts instead of maybe just helping mine,” she said.

Council Member Greg Casar said that, once projects are proposed and prioritized, he plans to scrutinize them carefully, noting that the areas that demand the most attention are not always the areas that have the most issues.

“Even if you determine that it is the place of greatest need, I would also want to hear the staff’s opinion,” Casar said.

Assistant City Manager Robert Goode also chimed in about the proposal, noting that staff will work with Council and Adler and will likely come back with three or four alternatives for the Mobility Committee and Council to consider. “I think this can end up being a win-win,” he said.

District 5 resident David King — the only member of the public who signed up to speak on the item — spoke highly of the proposal. “We do have some areas where filling in a gap in a sidewalk could make a big difference to us,” he said. “(This could) help our low-income families who are trying to get to work in time through our transportation infrastructure.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin City Council Mobility Committee: A City Council committee that reviews matters related to all modes of transportation.

Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

Public Works Department: This city department oversees major capital improvement projects; maintains the city's trails, roadways, and bridges; and promotes safe travel on city thoroughfares.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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