The Austin Chronicle

Beside the Point

Dazed and Confused

By Wells Dunbar, March 28, 2008, News

If springtime's bright, high haze wasn't distracting enough, here in the Live Oak Capital of the World, there's always enough airborne allergens to ensure your workday is spent foggily staring out of sunny windows rather than doing anything exceptionally productive. With the tree-pollen count hovering somewhere above the Amazon as of this writing, here are several items of interest pingponging through BTP's congested head, if not the Austin body politic:

According to Chief Financial Officer Leslie Browder, the city's sales-tax receipts – accounting for 28% of the city's general fund, just behind property tax at 31% – were off projections by nearly 3 points (with 4.7% growth instead of the hoped-for 7.5%). While hardly cause to sell off the city's shares at Bear Stearns bargain prices, could this mean the national slowdown Austin's been relatively insulated from is creeping in? While the torrent of cash coursing through the capital city from the state and the university has long-bestowed a welcome equilibrium to local finances, it looks like the nationwide fallout may indeed touch our shores. (Will this mean I can afford to live Downtown now?) The city's proceeding with caution, as evidenced by Browder's edict that department directors "first coordinate with their assistant city manager when filling personnel vacancies and making discretionary spending decisions" – described by some council members as a step above a hiring freeze. With the city budget around the corner, we just hope this year's theme isn't "Cinching Our Belt – Then Boiling It to Make Broth."

Financial slowdowns aside, the city's racing along with plans for the new central library, supposed centerpiece of the Green Water Treatment Plant redevelopment project Downtown. Well, as fast as a deliberative body can. Today, they approve the process for selecting which firm will have the honor, a three-tier thing beginning with requests for qualifications, followed by presentations to a staff committee, then presentations to council. A discussion last week regarding the library put the $90 million that voters allocated for the library in context – albeit a somewhat broke-ass one. None of the other main libraries compared, like Seattle's shimmering glass building, were built for $90 million or less. Factor in the rising cost of construction materials, the fact that building won't begin for another couple of years, and that only $65 million of the $90 million is for construction (the rest going to planning, maintenance, etc.), and you're looking at a shortfall larger than a couple of late fees. Council sounds optimistic regarding private funding, while Brewster McCracken enthused that his new parking enterprise program will offset the carpark cost. (Marc Ott reminded him not to get ahead of himself writing checks off the "fairly new business for the city," just yet.)

If anything, with the economy going this way, the new library will be greeted by adoring, swollen ranks of the homeless.

If the noontime RSVPs to citizens communications by council candidates Jennifer Gale (on "Why are our kitties and puppies meowing and yelping for a 'no kill' pet policy?") and Ken Vasseau ("Recycle and Austin landfills") didn't tip you, yes, we're in the full swing of council elections. From here on out, we'll endeavor to bring you all the candidates forums we can find, so you can see the candidates in action. Although that's not to say some new group couldn't spring up overnight – say, Neigh­bor­hood Associations for a Greater Say (NAGS, for short) – and demand all candidates pander and genuflect to their sacrosanct concerns. See "Council Candidate Forums," p.25, for this week's meetings, and try to attend a couple, if only for the fireworks – we're sure Jason "I don't think they're reading it right" Meeker and a slow-boiling Lee Leffingwell are still licking their wounds from the Austin Neighborhoods Council slugfest last night.

Reach out and touch BTP at [email protected].

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