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CAMPO wants to get fiscal with Williamson County

Thursday, May 12, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is breaking up with the city of Austin in the hopes of a better future with Williamson County.

CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board voted unanimously on Monday to enter into a fiscal agent agreement with Williamson, thus ending a relationship the transportation agency has had with the city since the early 1990s.

Under federal law, CAMPO can access the money it uses for day-to-day business only by applying for reimbursements from the Texas Department of Transportation. That means the organization needs a fiscal agent to essentially feed it a steady stream of loans just to keep the lights on.

CAMPO Public Information Officer Doise Miers told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday that the city generally fronts the organization roughly between $150,000 to $300,000 per month, all of which is repaid through reimbursements.

CAMPO’s most recent fiscal agent agreement with the city, signed back in 2009, expired late last year. Since then, the relationship has been on a month-to-month basis. That’s because a routine comprehensive review conducted in late 2014 by the organization’s executive staff found several key concerns.

Among them was the city’s adoption in 2014 of municipal civil service rules for its employees. Because CAMPO’s staff of 10 full-time employees is technically on the city’s payroll, they are subject to the city’s Civil Service Commission, which undercuts CAMPO executives’ hiring and disciplinary decisions.

CAMPO Assistant Director Phil Tindall also told the board on Monday that the 2009 agreement with the city allowed for annual cost-of-living pay raises for staff without prior approval from Executive Director Ashby Johnson.

Johnson said the most recent round of raises increased CAMPO’s budget by nearly $112,500.

“The city has the ability to generate revenue,” Johnson elaborated. “We don’t. So when this comes through, no one ever asks us. It’s just coming out of the budget, and I don’t have a way to control it.”

Tindall also explained to the board that embracing Williamson County as CAMPO’s fiscal agent would significantly reduce overhead to the tune of $140,700 per year, according to the agenda documents.

However, under questioning from Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioner Brigid Shea — both CAMPO board members — Johnson confirmed that CAMPO staff would soon be moving from the city-owned One Texas Center on Barton Springs Road to 3300 N. Interstate 35, the building that also houses the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. He said that the yearly rent for office space would increase from $60,000 to $225,000.

“I believe the annual asserted savings (in changing the fiscal agency) are obliterated (by) the difference in rent,” Eckhardt said.

Johnson began to explain that the reason for the move came from the city’s desire to reunite some of its Planning and Zoning Department staff under one roof. However, before he could finish his point, Johnson demurred to Chair Will Conley’s request to discuss the relocation issues at a future meeting.

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4406372

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