Weather-Beaten but Still Ticking
City lands $900,000 for weatherization but Rábago no longer heads program
Last week's surprise announcement that the city had regained financial footing in its weatherization program was followed by another surprise on Tuesday: Austin Energy's Karl Rábago, vice president for distributed energy services, is no longer overseeing the program. Anthony Snipes, chief of staff for City Manager Marc Ott, made the announcement at Tuesday's meeting of a weatherization subcommittee made up of minority business representatives. Snipes said the program for low-income residents would be handled through the office of AE General Manager Larry Weis.
Meanwhile, at their first meeting of the year, Jan. 12, City Council members are expected to sign off on a large and unexpected sum of federal stimulus dollars that had been given up for dead in November because of a colossal misstep at City Hall. The $900,000 in funds – $500,000 more than what the city was initially set to receive – will cover the cost of weatherizing 182 low-income apartments, according to a memo Ott sent to the mayor and council Dec. 29. (See Ott's complete memo, posted Dec. 29, on our Newsdesk blog.)
Besides the originally designated 54 units at Mt. Carmel Village Apartments in Central East Austin, the money will also fund weatherization work for 128 more at the Chase Village Apartments near Highway 183 and I-35. (The Tuesday meeting also included discussion about how the for-profit property owners appear to be benefitting from the program more than low-income homeowners.) Ott said in his memo that he had assured the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs, which allocated the funds, that the city had resolved the conflicts leading up to the city losing $400,000 to weatherize the Mt. Carmel apartments. The issues contributing to the funding loss are still rather murky, due largely to buck-passing and what appears to be strong personality and policy differences involving Austin Energy leadership, including Rábago; the City Manager's Office; environmentalists; and minority contracting representatives, who say the utility had not followed city procedures when awarding contracts for the weatherization work. For now, the respective players appear willing to cooperate and move ahead in a timely manner – the funds must be spent by March 31 – because nobody wants to be accused of losing nearly $1 million.