Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Heiligenstein: US 290 East freeway to toll road conversion may be financed using US 183 toll road as collateral.

City manager asked to evaluate financial crisis


Copyright 2008

AUSTIN-- Austin City Council Member Lee Leffingwell and Mayor Will Wynn are asking City Manager Marc Ott for an update on the city's financial position in light of the "ongoing national financial crisis."

Leffingwell said he sent an email to Ott Wednesday afternoon asking for perspective on funding items like the ability to maintain staffing and services at current levels.

"I don't think there's any serious discussions about actual layoffs or anything along those lines right now," Leffingwell said.

Still, Leffingwell said he wanted an open discussion of the city's current financial position. Leffingwell also called for an update on the ability to execute a voter-approved $567 million bond program from 2006 and city worker pensions.

"How is the current credit situation?," Leffingwell asked. "Should the city decide that it can go forward with implementing some of this, are we going to be able to access the credit to do it?"

Already, the Central Texas Regional Mobility is noting a tougher-than-expected climate for financing its next toll project, which is expected to be US 290 East toward Manor. At a workshop session on Wednesday, CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein laid out an updated plan for financing the toll road, which will include using the US 183A toll road as collatorial.

Leffingwell said he also wants know projections on whether the city's current 3 percent projections for sales tax revenue will fall into the negative during this budget year. The 3 percent sales tax projection accounted for $160.8 million in city revene in 2009 according to the Austin city budget.

"I think it goes without saying that it's very uncertain times right now," said Leffingwell. "I think it's important that we come out and say those things in public."

Calls to Austin Mayor Will Wynn were not immediately returned Wednesday night. City of Austin Public Information Manager David Matustik said Ott and city staff already are working on projections for how the financial crisis will affect bonds and "commercial paper" acquisitions.

"They were planning on getting another update together anyway," said Matustik. "He's going to facilitate this request."

The Austin City Council will meet again Oct. 16.

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