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Staff urges more funding for maintenance

Thursday, May 12, 2016 by Jo Clifton

City Council heard an urgent plea for more money for maintenance of city buildings and facilities Wednesday as part of staff’s series of budget presentations. During that presentation, Building Services Officer Eric Stockton and representatives from the Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin Public Library showed an assortment of photos of crumbling parking lots and deteriorating roofs and air-conditioning equipment, among other things.

One reason the city needs to address so many deferred maintenance issues is that Council has been taking money from the maintenance fund and putting it into other areas for several years, according to Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo.

The backlog has evolved over decades and has now reached a critical stage, according to Stockton. One of the photos he showed Council was of the One Texas Center chiller, which was installed in 1983, and another was of the dilapidated roof of the facility.

Now, Building Services wants to know if Council will increase its budget for maintenance from the current level of $1.4 million to as much as $5.9 million for Fiscal Year 2017. That amount would be in line with a goal set by city policy but not recently honored.

Council Member Don Zimmerman took the opportunity to attack city staff, specifically for supporting the development of the new central library on Lady Bird Lake. He criticized them for what he characterized as their failure to incorporate the cost of maintenance into bonds for items such as the library.

“Is there a deferred budget item for the roof of the library? It’s not a deferred budget problem; it’s a management problem,” he said.

Van Eenoo responded that the city’s policy is to set aside 25 percent in funding for maintenance. However, that policy bumps up against Council decisions to spend the money for other things.

“In the last couple of budget cycles, money has been diverted away” from maintenance to other areas, he said.

Building the library was a decision made by staff, Zimmerman said.

Not so, said Mayor Steve Adler, who told Zimmerman he should not be blaming city staff for decisions Council made.

Altogether the city has to maintain 3.2 million square feet of inventory in 250 facilities spread over 330 square miles.

Stockton told the Austin Monitor that Building Services has a budget of about $123$23 million to operate across 150 facilities. Those facilities include City Hall, One Texas Center, the old municipal building on Eighth Street, fire stations, police facilities, EMS stations, health facilities and the Rutherford Lane campus for Austin Resource Recovery. There is a separate budget for libraries and parks.

“Our budget is primarily an operating budget and includes custodial services, which is important. It does help us increase the lifespan on the finishes of the building. But that is not replacing roofs, that’s not replacing things that wear out. Even if you take care of them, sooner or later they’re going to wear out,” Stockton said.

“So we historically have not been funded to have the capacity to do really sophisticated asset management,” he continued. “We’ve been funded at a level typically that is a ‘fix on failure’ type of model for maintenance, which means we keep an eye on things, but it doesn’t mean we just wait until everything breaks before we try to fix it. We do some preventative maintenance, like replacing HVAC filters — basic stuff that extends the lifespan of the equipment.

“The problem comes in the life cycle replacement plan, and we have been — since this problem started to get to the tipping point about five years ago — building up our ability to shift from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance,” Stockton said.

Problems associated with deferring maintenance include higher long-term costs, accelerated facility deterioration, service disruptions, a negative impact on building occupants, safety hazards and environmental hazards, the presenters noted.

Stockton started at his current position in 2011, and he said the shift to proactive maintenance probably should have happened earlier in the 2000s. But there were a couple of economic downturns, he noted, making the change more difficult.

The current level of maintenance that has been deferred is more than $80 million, according to budget analysts. At the present level of $1.4 million a year in maintenance spending, the deferred maintenance backlog continues to grow at a rate of 4 percent per year.

By increasing funding to $5.9 million, the city will be able to “get on top of this” by 2036, according to Building Services Deputy Officer Walter Drane. If the city were to devote $12 million a year to proactive maintenance, the problem would be resolved by 2025, Drane said.

Council members Greg Casar and Ora Houston both indicated that they would support higher levels of funding for maintenance. Council Member Delia Garza, a former firefighter, said she has gotten numerous emails from female firefighters complaining about a lack of women’s bathrooms in fire stations, a problem that could be addressed with more money for maintenance.

Photo of One Texas Center Courtesy of the city of Austin

This story has been updated to reflect that actual budget of the Building Services department as it relates to facilities here. That number is $23 million not $123 million.

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