Whispers

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Resolution to seek homestead exemption

Council members have a few items to chew on today during their work session ahead of Thursday’s Council meeting. That includes items from Council Members Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who are sponsoring a resolution asking city management to bring back an ordinance by Dec. 1 that would establish a small homestead exemption. That exemption, according to the resolution, would result in “not more than a $5,000 tax exemption” for local homeowners. Some members of the Council may point out that such a tiny exemption might save the average taxpayer about $25 a year but cost the city perhaps as much as $3 million. It seems like an item made for the political season.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Can software really do this?

Kerry O’Connor, the city’s new innovation officer, is seeking $180,500 to provide “end to end innovation management services.” According to the backup material for this item, the professional services contract with BrightIdea Inc. of San Francisco would help the chief innovation officer to “mobilize energy, create momentum and drive toward viable ideas and projects to further the city’s goal of being the Best Managed and Most Livable City.” The software package, aptly named Innovation Suite, is touted as the latest software package for “innovation administrators and idea contributors.”

 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Global warming not an issue in City Hall

Council Member Laura Morrison has had a difficult time staying warm in the ice-cold Council Chambers. (And she’s not the only one.) So she is sponsoring a resolution “to promote energy conservation by establishing standard temperature settings during summer months in all city office buildings.” Morrison and Mayor Lee Leffingwell have disagreed about the temperature setting for several years. Neither will be on the dais to enjoy the new higher temperature by next summer, when a new Council will be taking their place.


Monday, August 25, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Central Labor Council chooses candidates

AFSCME leader Jack Kirfman said Sunday that the local Central Labor Council had made endorsements in 10 of the 11 Council races on Saturday. Kirfman said the labor council interviewed 36 candidates in a daylong meeting. Like AFSCME, the larger group endorsed Ora Houston in District 1, Delia Garza in District 2, Sabino “Pio” Renteria in District 3, Greg Casar in District 4, Ann Kitchen in District 5 and Jimmy Flannigan in District 6. Members made no endorsement in District 7. In District 8, the group chose Ed Scruggs, and Kathie Tovo won the endorsement in District 9. Mandy Dealey is the labor council’s choice for District 10, and unsurprisingly, Mike Martinez is its pick for mayor.


Monday, August 25, 2014 by Alex Dropkin

Tech panel wants more money for grants

In his budget recommendations for Fiscal Year 2015, Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission Chair Lemuel Williams told Council members Wednesday he would like to see more money in the Grants for Technology Opportunities Program. Williams asked the Council to increase annual funding from $200,000 to $300,000 to help boost the competitiveness of the grant funding application. The grants program is a funded match program designed to support “local organizations in their efforts to include all our citizens in an emerging digital society,” according to the city website. Williams noted that in 2012, recipients of the $175,000 awarded by the program raised almost $1.2 million in matching funds, citing that as a reason to increase funding.

 


Monday, August 25, 2014 by Jo Clifton

CitComm now a temporary candidate forum

Thursday’s City Council agenda currently contains 150 items, including the frequently amusing Citizens Communications. We can expect to see candidates making an effort to present their issues on Channel 6 through this method for the next couple of months. This week, Council will hear from Susana Almanza, running for District 3, whose topic is “make Austin affordable,” and CarolAnnRose Kennedy, a District 5 candidate who will talk about “PRECEDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS.” Prepare to be entertained.


Friday, August 22, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Central Austin Democrats back rail plan

As different political clubs around town become engaged in planning for the November election, there’s bound to be a lot of heat and light. Glen Coleman, president of Central Austin Democrats, notes that his club endorsed the $600 million rail bond proposal Wednesday night after considerable discussion. Coleman said, “We had a spirited discussion which I would characterize, frankly, as a mix of anti-rail heat and pro-rail light. Rail prevailed, but it was pretty close.”


Friday, August 22, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Hays Commissioners post tax rate, budget

Hays County Commissioners have proposed a tax rate of 0.4690 per $100 of assessed valuation for Fiscal Year 2015 and a county budget of $157 million, and have set hearing dates for public comment on both. The proposed tax rate is the same as the current tax year, but since more improved property is on the tax rolls, there would be about $3.6 million more in tax revenue collected. The budget includes $225,000 to complete implementation of a new Computer Aided Dispatch System, $150,000 to continue a new jail facility study, $525,000 for 15 new law enforcement vehicles, as well as funds for upgrading server storage, Wi-Fi for county buildings and video magistration. The funds are also marked for law enforcement personnel raises, a 4 percent cost-of-living raise for elected officials and a 4 percent merit/market adjustment pool for employee raises. Public hearings on the proposed tax rate are set for Sept. 2. and Sept. 9 at the Hays County Courthouse. A public hearing on the county’s proposed budget is set for Sept. 16 in the same location.

 


Friday, August 22, 2014 by Alex Dropkin

Library wants funding for ‘bikemobile’

As part of its budgetary wish list given to the city’s Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee, Austin Public Library is hoping to get $3,000 for a bikemobile, a greener alternative to the commonly used bookmobile. The bikemobile would include a custom bike with a Wi-Fi hot spot that could both check out books and issue library cards, said Toni Lambert, the library’s assistant director for public services, to committee members Wednesday. The library is hoping for a total budgetary increase of $349,000, which would allow the library to hire a programmer to build mobile apps. But Lambert said that any one item within its requests would make a difference.


Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

More meters possible in East Austin

As part of the budget process, Transportation Director Robert Spillar mentioned some new parking meter districts could be on the horizon. These districts come at the behest of neighborhoods, who asked the city to consider their areas for meters to address parking congestion. Spillar said his department is currently considering meters in near-East Austin between Eighth and Sixth Streets (presumably along the fairly new and congested East Side bar district) and in an area of the Mueller development near the commercial zone. Spillar said his department responds to requests from neighborhoods and only determines whether they will get meters after conducting a study. Amazingly, the discussion circled back to the Butler Park Pitch and Putt, which has metered street parking along Lee Barton Drive. Spillar explained that these meters were not part of a parking meter district, but a response to people parking on that road long-term for work and use of street parking by nearby businesses.


Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Mayor waxes nostalgic for water regs

Tuesday’s budget talks sparked a trip down memory lane for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who chaired the 2007 Water Conservation Committee. During a discussion about individual water meters for multifamily housing, which was a recommendation from the committee that has yet to be implemented, Leffingwell noted that it might be interesting to see what recommendations had actually taken hold in the past seven years. “I would be curious. The city actually got a Conservationist of the Year Award from the American Waterworks Association for that program. I would be interested to see how much we have done, and if we have to give that award back,” he said. Austin Water Utility Assistant Director David Anders said that, as far as he knew, all of the “major” recommendations had been implemented, but Leffingwell recalled several, presumably “non-major” ones that had not. Those included water-free rinsing stations for dentists, carwash appliance transitions, and soil depth regulations.


Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Airport budget a bright spot

At Tuesday’s budget work session, Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards said Austin Bergstrom International Airport is the third-fastest growing airport in the country and has surpassed 10 million passengers. Airport Executive Director Jim Smith laid out more good news for the city, with ABIA revenues climbing to a projected $122.8 million for 2015. Budget writers are projecting more money from terminal rentals and related fees, continued growth in the number of passengers and more revenue from concessions.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Clerk’s office to draw for ballot order

The Austin City Clerk’s office will conduct the much-anticipated 2014 Ballot Draw on Wednesday afternoon at City Hall. The drawing will determine the order of candidates’ names on the November ballot for the mayoral and City Council elections. City Clerk Jannette Goodall will do the honors by randomly drawing candidate names by district. Officials expect the drawing to attract more interest than past ballot draws, since it is being held for the first election under the city’s new 10-1 single-member district system. The event is set for 1 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room, but if you can’t make it, you can catch it live on ATXN (Cable Channel 6) and on the city website.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Code Compliance is now Code Department

The department that receives and responds to complaints about nuisances and dangerous structures shall henceforth be known simply as the Austin Code Department. Department Director Carl Smart unveiled the new name at Tuesday’s budget briefing. The department is expecting to investigate 19,000 complaints this coming year. In 2013, the department investigated 17,779 complaints, and the projected number for 2014 is 18,500. In the coming year, Smart said, the department intends to establish a program for enforcing the universal recycling ordinance and will continue to expand the multifamily inspection and repeat offender programs.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

Commissioners don’t act on ICE jail holds

Travis County Commissioners met with county attorneys in a morning executive session Tuesday to discuss County Sheriff Greg Hamilton’s approval of and participation in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secure Communities Program. The program asks local officials to detain immigrants who entered the country illegally and have completed their jail term for ICE. There have been complaints by immigrant rights groups that federal agents are breaking up families and targeting those who allegedly commit minor crimes. At a recent budget hearing, Hamilton sought more funding for employee overtime, but advocates asked that additional funds be withheld as long as the program was in place. Alejandro Caceres of the Austin Immigration Rights Coalition said the program is not making the community safer, but is instead causing a crisis. No action was taken in open court Tuesday, and there was no move to add the item to future agendas. However, commissioners say they are working to persuade the sheriff’s office to drop the program.

 

 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Environmental Democrats set to endorse

The Austin Environmental Democrats are holding an endorsement meeting today. The group will be reviewing and voting on candidates in City Council Districts 1, 2 and 3. Candidates’ answers to questionnaires were distributed to members via the club’s website. Only members whose dues are current will be allowed to vote. The group will hold endorsement meetings for Districts 4, 7 and 10 on Sept. 3 and Districts 5, 6 and 8 on Sept. 17. The group held an endorsement meeting Aug. 6 for District 9 and the mayor’s race, but no candidate got the required 60 percent vote to earn an endorsement. The Environmental Democrats meet at 11:30 a.m. at El Mercado South at 1302 South First St.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Tree Folks hires Thais Perkins as director

Tree Folks, the Central Texas nonprofit that promotes urban forests, has hired Thais Perkins as its executive director. Perkins, with 10 years of experience in environmental research, policy, and organizational management, was most recently a project coordinator with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. At the city, Perkins managed environmental commissioning and environmental impact monitoring for Water Treatment Plant 4. Previously, she served as a program coordinator for the University of Texas Environmental Science Institute and as assistant director for Southeastern Louisiana University’s Pontchartrain Basin Research Program. Perkins holds a master’s degree in forest science from Oregon State University and a bachelor’s in biology from the University of Southern Mississippi. Tree Folks plants more than 10,000 trees a year in addition to offering educational programs and fostering community partnerships.

 


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Smith to run without opposition

Craig Smith, longtime member of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District board of directors, is the lone candidate to file for the Precinct 5 seat in the November election. District General Manager John Dupnik said Monday there are three candidates on the ballot to fill the vacant Precinct 2 seat: Blaine Stansberry, Terry Newton and Ronald Stried. Dupnik noted that anyone who wants to file as a write-in candidate has until Friday to do so.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Let’s Go Austin PAC plans rally

The Let’s Go Austin Political Action Committee, formed to campaign for Austin’s November rail and roads bond proposition, will formally kick off its campaign Wednesday with a noon rally on the plaza at Austin City Hall. Let’s Go Austin campaign manager Lynda Rife said the event is the beginning of a three-month effort to educate voters about Proposition 1. The November bond proposal totals $1 billion, with $600 million dedicated to the first phase of the urban rail system and $400 million dedicated to major road projects, a new Austin Traffic Command Center, and engineering studies for future road fixes and expansion of the urban rail system. Council members, business leaders and others are scheduled to speak at the PAC event Wednesday. Early voting for the Nov. 4 election begins Oct. 20.

 


Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Council candidate forums scheduled

The city’s Ethics Review Commission and the League of Women Voters of the Austin Area are co-hosting a series of public City Council candidate forums in September, as well as a forum for mayoral candidates in October. All candidates for mayor and each of Austin’s 10 geographic districts have been invited to participate. The dates, times and locations are: District 1, Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m. at Asian-American Resource Center, 8401 Cameron Road; Districts 4 and 7, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Northwest Recreation Center, 2913 Northland Drive; Districts 6 and 10, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Hope Presbyterian Church, 11512 Olson Drive; Districts 5 and 8, Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Austin Community College, 1820 W. Stassney Lane; District 9, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. at Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road; Districts 2 and 3, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Montopolis Recreation Center, 1200 Montopolis Drive; mayor, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. at Austin Convention Center, 500 East Cesar Chavez St. The forums will be televised live on ATXN (Channel 6) and rebroadcast and webcast on the city’s website. For questions, email lwvaustin@lwvaustin.org.

 


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