The Daily Hustle: 9/13/10

Live-blogging the budget business

The Daily Hustle: 9/13/10

Hey there, the Hustle here, bleary-eyed and bushy haired at City Hall, waiting for City Council to adopt the FY 2010-2011 city budget. Follow us after the jump for a live-blog of this morning's budget business.

The wrap-up: All in all, a somewhat less contentious meeting than the Hustle expected. The water rate/WTP4 drama arrived, but the interplay between Spelman and Leffingwell was more lively than any comment from the citizens. The EGRSO funding changes were relatively minimal, and while Laura Morrison procured some additional funding for social services, it fell short of the original amounts she shared with the Hustle, so she'll certainly continue looking for more money there.

No doubt, the Hustle will have more this week.

11:41am: Marc Ott gives a shout-out to the staff.

11:38am: So that's pretty much it. Council has adjourned their meeting on the budget, but is still considering business as the Austin Housing Finance Corporation and the Mueller Local Government Corporation.

11:32am: The director of the planned Si Se Puede Learning Center at the Cristo Rey Catholic Church speaks in defense to the council. Fernandez and his crew previously vilified the center, focused on learning and English skills, for receiving Holly Good Neighbor funds. Item passes.

11:13am: Former Brown Beret Paul Hernandez now comes to the podium.

11:08am: The Fernandez filibuster - Fernandezbuster? - continues.

10:56am: Now Item 14, regarding Holly Good Neighbor allocations. Martinez says the annual allocation of $125,000 is far under the $716,000 in requests the city's received. Up first to speak, as expected, is Gavino Fernandez. Asks for an increase in the allocation amount in each home.

10:54am: Leffingwell offers Items 6-14, with exception of 12 and 14, as consent agenda. All pass, minus the two pulls. Now moving to Item 12, regarding Convention and Visitors Bureau funding. Passes.

10:51am: Item 4, despite the failed WTP4 amendment, passes unanimously. Now Item 5, ratifying the maximum tax rate (but not the increase they're behold to set), is up. Passes.

10:45am: Discussion about recalling some of the debt already issued for WTP4. "Obviously if you're not spending money you're not building the plant," says Leffingwell. "That's my point exactly!" says Spelman. He adds "I plead guilt to shameless symbolic politics," saying even though a vote for a lower rate would not impact WTP4 construction, if it were to stop, the rate could go down. Amendment fails along regular 4-3 split.

10:42am: Leffingwell doesn't like it, calls assistant city manger Rudy Garza up to explain impact lower rate would have on utility.

10:39am: Spelman offers a doozy, lessening the water rate increases as not to cover WTP4. Would lessen increase for residential uses from 6.7% to 5.9%. "That's not chicken feed," he says, but acknowledging even if WTP4 construction stopped tomorrow, debt service would still have to be met. Regardless, Spelman says "I suspect it will neither be perceived as friendly, nor likely will it pass."

10:32am: Onto Item 4, fees, fines and charges. An amendment from Chris Riley would raise demolition/relocation fees for homes 40 years or older, or in a historic district, from $25 to $140, to represent added staff time on the controversial cases. Riley says his office will soon offer a resolution encouraging reuse of demo materials that could offset the increase.

10:32am: A few more minor staff amendments to the capital (non-general fund, the Hustle thinks) budget. Passes 7-0.

10:30am: On to Item 3. More UT-related disclaimers. UT-related items pass, 5-0, again.

10:26am: Mike Martinez with a friendly amendment letting Solid Waste Services hold onto some $150K the department may come in under on. Item 2 passes 7-0.

10:23am: Now Randi Shade is offering her amendment defunding the Trail of Lights and funneling that $374K to additional parks maintenance.

10:20am: Morrison now has an amendment essentially taking those EGRSO funds freed up by Cole and folding them into Health and Human Services.

10:18am: Sheryl Cole offers an amendment, essentially, if the Hustle follows, defunding Austin Energy's commitment to the Economic Growth and Redvelopment Office's global commerce program by some $385,000. "We also recognize that we did not do very much at all to reduce the burden on Austin Energy for the EGRSO department," said Cole, characterizing it as a first step.

10:15am: Budget officer Ed Van Eenoo lists several minor staff-recommended amendments to Item 2.

10:08am: Moving onto items 2-11. Presentation from legal regarding some council members abstentions from voting on UT-related matters (i.e., professor Bill Spelman). Spelman says his colleagues at the LBJ school make no money off the engineering-related contracts the city holds with UT, but will still recuse himself on principle. Laura Morrison, who's husband works for UT, will also abstain from voting on UT-related items in the operating budget. This portion passes, 5-0.

10:06am: Leffingwell closes hearing, notes public hearing closed on the remaining budget items. You can see an agenda here.

10:02am: Speakers wrapping up.

9:59am: One interesting wrinkle to today's budget business: Despite the City Manager's proposed tax rate of 45.71 cents, council is going to adopt the maximum proposed rate today of 46.93 cents. However, that's only a ceiling that council is prepared to go below; Leffingwell said earlier on the dais that they would formally set a lower rate - likely Ott's proposed rate - at their September 29 meeting.

9:55am: PODER's Almanza is up now, speaking "on behalf of the poor and the working poor" against the rate hikes. "Four dollars can sustain a family for a week," by way of rice and cornmeal, she says ...

9:53am: Neighborhood figure Jeff Jack's a late addition to the speakers list. He's riffing about George W. Bush right now, because his economic policies are like the proposed water rate hikes.

9:41am: Bunch talks to City Manager Marc Ott's sloganeering about being the best managed city in the country. "Well you've been here two-plus years and we don't have a single metric on how to manage that. ... It's meaningless."

9:38am: Blythe is speaking, angry with flood clean-up efforts in her Spicewood Springs neighborhood following the storm. Any bets on when Lee Leffingwell makes his first comment about keeping comments germane to the budget? Bunch now coming to the podium ...

9:35am: And we have a quorum. Getting started with a public hearing on the tax rate.

9:29am: Council is mulling around the dais, but the fun already started outside, with a press conference from opponents of proposed Austin Water rate increases, including SOS's Bill Bunch, PODER's Susana Almanza, Spicewood Springs neighbor Sharon Blythe, and more.

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