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AUSTIN EDITION -- School district to repay city loan

Austin council considered forgiving loan for Wescott Field

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

City Council members briefly considered making a $100,000 contribution to the Wescott Field renovation project, but in the end decided a deal's a deal.

Last week during a budget work session and again during Monday's finance committee meeting, council members discussed forgiving an interest-free loan to Austin Public Schools. The loan was made after Lori Volz, director of management services, told city officials the renovation project was having difficulties paying its bills.

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The project is intended to be entirely funded by donations, without the use of tax money.

When requesting the loan, Volz said the pledge drive was not on schedule, according to city Finance Director Tom Dankert. Since then, the district, which acts as the fiscal agent for the project, has collected enough pledges to pay off the loan.

Last week, Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz said she would not be in favor of accepting the payment if the project would be harmed.

Dankert then told council members, "Lori Volz has called me and said, 'I've got your $100,000. What do you want me to do with it?' "

On Monday, City Administrator Pat McGarvey confirmed Volz said the money is there.

Wayne Goodnature, 1st Ward City Council member, asked others to consider forgiving the loan.

"I just think we should debate and consider this. There isn't a kid that goes through that high school that isn't going to benefit from that," he said.

Finance committee chairman Dick Chaffee said the city loaned the money in good faith, expecting it would be repaid. The city has its own list of projects for children, including a new practice arena, he added.

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Mickey Jorgenson said last week she believes the responsible thing to do is accept the payment.

"We loaned taxpayers' money," she said.

The district has a committee working on the Wescott renovation project. The work there is being done in phases. The old track was demolished and a new nine-lane track was installed, allowing the district to again sponsor track meets. The football field has been widened to accommodate soccer games. A baseball field was moved to Riverland Community College.

Future work, based on pledges collected, will include stadium and locker-room remodeling and new tennis courts.

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