Austin City Council tackles mobile home communities, car booting and EMS contract

The Austin City Council meeting was moving right along Thursday morning when the room started smelling like natural gas. Council took a rare morning break so the Austin Fire Department could come do atmospheric tests. They gave the chambers an all-clear.

"They did report that they were responding to an adjacent building that was either in construction or potentially burping gas from the Texas Gas Systems which may have been inducted into our own systems which may have been what was going on," said Austin City Manager Ray Arellano.

Aside from that bit of stress, the morning started with Council Member Greg Casar's press conference about protecting mobile home communities in Austin.

"City Councils of the past and even neighborhood planning efforts of the past have not prioritized mobile home communities as a vibrant affordable part of our community," Casar said.

Casar says there's a negative stereotype that mobile homes are undesirable which he disagrees with.  

He says current city rules encourage mobile home parks to be replaced.

"Some residents working alongside City Councils in the past have in fact made it so that the future plans, the zoning under some of these mobile home parks is for a big single-family subdivision or for commercial development such as offices," Casar said.

Council passed Casar's "item 78" to re-zone mobile home communities back to mobile home use -- that way, residents won't be displaced to make way for a big development.  

Something that's happened in the past.

Also: a contract for paramedics. The interim agreement was set to expire in September. Austin Travis-County EMS Association President Tony Marquardt says paramedics elsewhere in the state were getting paid more for what they do.  

Marquardt says this 4-year- contract brings EMS back to being a competitive profession in Austin. "The people that are below market will receive increases anywhere from 6 to 15% depending on where they are in the market," Marquardt said. 

And lastly: vehicle booting.

"The state has decided that they're going to pass on the responsibility for setting booting fees and immobilization fees to the city level," said Andrew Eaton, Operations Manager of Premium Parking.

So council, city staff and parking enforcement companies went back and forth on what the maximum fee would be to get a boot off if you're parked where you're not supposed to park.

"Some of us on the council are concerned about overcharging or that low-income folks would then lose access to transportation and then you can't get to work and you can't pay the fee," said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.  "The staff original recommendation was to set it at $50 which is much lower than it has been in the past, I think it's $150 right now." 

Council finally settled on $100.  A number companies like Premium Parking were rooting for.

"We were petitioning to get that raised  to $100.  $100 allows Admiral Enforcement, our contract and enforcement company, to operate sustainable," Eaton said. 

Council Member Flannigan says that $100 figure may not be final.  

They'll revisit the issue during budget negotiations in the upcoming weeks.