City moving forward on street projects for summerPublished 10:32am Wednesday, February 20, 2013
The city of Austin will move forward on eight street improvement projects this summer.
The Austin City Council approved the projects after a series of public hearings during its public meeting Tuesday night.
Though more than a dozen people attended the hearings, few spoke against the proposed projects. City officials have not drawn up assessment fees for impacted residents and businesses yet, but Public Works Director Steven Lang said street assessment rates would run $40 per linear foot of frontage for residential property, and $57.25 per linear foot for commercial property. In addition, sidewalk assessment rates this year will run $95-$100 per 4-foot panel, and $120-$125 per 6-foot panel. Lang said city workers would only replace cracked sidewalk for each project.
“We’re out there doing a hodge-podge of sidewalks,” Lang said. “Some have just been in there a long time.”
Once assessments have been given, residents will be able to challenge potentially high fees at the city’s assessment public hearing scheduled for March 18.
City officials are researching whether to switch Austin to a tax levy system to pay for public works projects after Council Member Jeremy Carolan came forward with the idea during a council retreat last week. Carolan said he had heard from several cities at a recent conference about the benefits of tax levies over assessment fees, and Mayor Tom Stiehm has publicly called for more information in support of the switch.
Sewer rates to increase
Council members will likely approve an increase to the city’s sewer rates at their next public meeting after discussing it during Tuesday’s work session.
The council is expected to increase sewer rates from a $7.25 connection charge each month to a $7.83 charge starting in April, and a $7.98 starting next year. In addition, the city’s monthly water use charge will increase from $1.85 per water unit used each month to a $2 charge in april, and a $2.04 charge starting in January 2014.
City officials said earlier this month the increases would be necessary to cover increasing maintenance projects at Austin’s wastewater treatment plant. City officials annually set aside about $650,000 from water usage bills to fund future treatment plant projects, according to Finance Director Tom Dankert. Yet the $10 million or so in that fund will disappear over the next two years, as the city has about $10.7 million in treatment plant projects scheduled in 2013 and 2014 under its capital improvement plan.
The city council last raised sewer rates in 2010, raising the rates from a $6.10 fixed fee and $1.66 per unit a month, which council members set in 2001.
A feasibility study done by consultants at Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. last year identified several upgrades and maintenance projects needed at the treatment plant. While council members brought up potentially increasing sewer rates in 2012, the council and city officials didn’t think treatment plant project funding would run out as soon as projected. The council approved SEH to complete a $365,000 design project for the plant’s upcoming digester repairs.
The city has more than $3 million in treatment plant projects scheduled between 2015 and 2017, which will include reducing phosphorus, building a holding/transfer facility to handle sanitary sewer waste, and various building improvements. City officials say improvements and upgrades will be needed as the treatment plant is an older facility, built between 1938 and 1958.
City to own Vision 2020 downtown plaza stage
The city of Austin will take ownership of a proposed stage at the downtown plaza once Vision 2020 organizers have raised the money and completed construction.
Council members preliminarily agreed to take ownership, maintain and schedule events for the stage during its work session. Vision 2020 organizers say the stage is one of several improvements to come to the downtown area over the next few years.
“We know just adding a stage isn’t going to solve the downtown’s problems, but we believe it’s going to be part of the solution to bring more people to the downtown area,” Laura Helle, Vision 2020’s director of creative vision told the council.