Michael McGill

City Councilwoman Kathie Tovo is a co-sponsor of the resolution to guarantee an $11 minimum wage to part-time and seasonal workers. 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Part-time city employees may start earning the same $11 per hour minimum wage as full-time employees. 

The City Council passed a resolution Thursday to support this goal and direct its staff to analyze how this would affect the city’s budget. Michael McGill, policy adviser to the resolution’s main sponsor, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, said the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour was not enough money for a person to live on in Austin.

“The $11 figure is one that was decided upon by this council as the floor of a living wage in Austin, so somebody working [here] could make ends meet, essentially,” McGill said.

Councilwoman Kathie Tovo, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, said it has been an important value of the city to ensure that its employees are able to afford to live where they work.

“We have many talented employees who work for the City of Austin in part-time, temporary and seasonal jobs and receiving a higher wage would have an immediate positive impact on those employees and their families and could help with employee retention,” Tovo said in an email.

McGill said $11 was already the minimum wage for all of the city’s full-time employees.

“When a company looking to relocate to Austin is seeking economic incentives, we require they pay a minimum of $11 [per hour],” McGill said. “We also make that a stipulation for our contractors. We don’t do everything in-house, so if we contract, we require that those companies pay their workers $11
or more.”

The council approved a similar resolution last week expressing its support for state legislation that increases statewide minimum wage.

“[The council] approved a resolution that asked for the state of Texas to either raise the minimum wage to a living wage or to allow municipalities to do that themselves,” McGill said. “So in other words, the city of Austin could set a minimum wage for within its borders that all private employers would be subject to.”

Phil Thoden, president and CEO of the Austin Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, a trade association for the construction industry, said he thinks small businesses would have to compensate in two ways if they had to pay their employees a higher wage. 

“Prices either have to go up, which impacts you and me for whatever we want to buy, or something’s got to be cut,” Thoden said. “Either hours or some of the inputs into producing whatever it is you’re producing.”

McGill said City Council was trying to set an example for the state by passing this resolution.

“The reason we’re bringing this up this week is really to bring consistency to our policies,” McGill said. “If we’re asking the state to do something, and we haven’t done it ourselves, I think that’s an issue. And Sheryl thinks that’s an issue: to make sure that we are practicing internally the things that we are asking for outside entities to practice as well.”

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

As the “stealth dorms” ordinance goes into effect Monday, potentially decreasing housing density in some areas, city council members consider ways to address affordability issues in Austin.

The ordinance reduces the allowed number of unrelated adults who live together in a house or duplex from six to four, which may put further pressure on already increasing demand for housing in Austin. One way the city aims to address Austin’s housing affordability issue is through CodeNEXT, a plan which will revise Austin’s land development code by approximately 2017. 

According to council member Chris Riley, the council and stakeholders should not assume CodeNEXT will solve the underlying issue of housing affordability in Austin.

“[We are] trying to figure out ways to have new housing types across the city to meet the demands of a very diverse and growing population within the central city,” Riley said during the second and third readings of the occupancy limit. “This resolution does not fix that problem in any real way.”

Heidi Gerbracht, council member Bill Spelman’s policy director, said there is an important distinction between increasing affordability for low-income residents, whose rent exceeds a certain percentage of their income, and the issue of increasing demand for Austin housing stock, which affects residents who may not be low-income.

According to Gerbracht, the city’s occupancy rate is currently above 95 percent, which means Austin has few empty units available for rent to meet very high demand for housing, and the few places which are available are expensive.

“Basically, we’re going to have to find new places to put people,” Gerbracht said. “Not for those with the least in our community [but] from above those income-qualified units. I hear from people every day who are having trouble affording housing.”

Michael McGill, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole’s policy director, said the city is considering the development of micro units, which are very small apartments of approximately 350-500 square feet. The city will determine which, if any, impediments there are to building this kind of housing, McGill said.

“There are people who don’t necessarily need 1,000-square-foot apartments,” McGill said. “Those who live close to transit don’t necessarily have a car. They spend a lot of time out. Instead of having a party at their house, they’d have it at a restaurant.”

McGill said, although the units are more expensive per square foot, partly due to the increasing cost of building bathroom and kitchen spaces, micro units are less expensive overall. According to McGill, other cities, including Portland, Ore., and Seattle, have had success in allowing the development of micro units.

“It’s just a changing generational shift in housing,” McGill said. “There are people who are interested in that type of housing, and [it’s] not being delivered in the market right now.”

According to Gerbracht, general affordability issues may be addressed more in-depth as the city begins their budget process in April and as the city elects district council members in November. Gerbracht said she expects candidates for district council will propose ideas for how to increase affordability in Austin.

“I hope we will see [an increase] of students involved in local politics and policies, particularly with the transition to a district council,” Gerbracht said. “Students at any university in Austin could really turn out and change the course of elections.”

Water Treatment Plant 4, the only plant to draw water from Lake Travis, received an extra $15.5 million dollars in December 2012 for the completion of the project and is expected to be completed in 2014. 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The City of Austin reported its new water treatment plant is on track for completion following a decision last December by the City Council to grant extra $15 million to the project.

Water Treatment Plant 4, a project that started in 2009, will be the city’s third water treatment plant and the only plant to draw water from Lake Travis. The city’s other two plants draw water from Lake Austin. Austin Water released an update Monday saying the treatment plant is now more than halfway complete. The plant will serve the north and northwest areas of Austin and have the ability to treat 50 million gallons of water per day with the possibility of expansion of up to 300 million gallons per day. 

Austin Water spokesman Jill Mayfield said most of the plant’s exterior structures are complete.

“Things are on track to be completed by 2014,” Mayfield said. “We’re doing a lot of work inside — structural work and equipment that will clean the water inside. There is work still being done on the Jollyville tunnel.”

In December 2012 the City Council approved an extra $15.5 million dollars for the project, bringing total project costs to $523.5 million. Michael McGill, chief of staff for Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, said the council did not initially expect to allocate these additional funds.

“Last fall we got the update that they were in need of additional funds to complete the project, so that was something that came as a surprise to members of council based on the way we structured the project several years ago,” McGill said. “It’s impressive that they were able to keep this project so close to half a billion dollars, so some credit is due, though it’s not great that we went over on some of the costs.”

McGill said that while the plant is currently a huge project, the city is still hoping to find ways to conserve more water while it is treating more.

“How do we make sure we conserve water in ever greater amounts so that we don’t need to suck dry those lakes?” McGill said. “That’s a challenge. It’s a behavioral change on an individual level. [The plant] is the largest capital project in the city’s history, so it’s certainly something we’re paying a lot of attention to.”

After the plant is completed, McGill said, the council has many other water issues they hope to address.