Faced with $169M hole due to coronavirus, oil price slump, Houston City Council passes $5.1Bn budget for FY 21
by Tulsi Kamath - Click2Houston
Faced with the biggest budget shortfall in five years due to the coronavirus pandemic and a slump in oil prices, the Houston City Council unanimously approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s $5.1 billion budget for the fiscal year 2021 Wednesday
City councilmembers debated for six hours before approving the budget for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1. They faced a budget hole of $169 million, the worst in recent history, as a result of the pandemic and oil prices. The city also operates under the property tax revenue cap, resulting in lower tax revenues.
Turner said in a press conference Wednesday evening that they were able to avoid furloughing city employees by belt-tightening and tapping into $104 million allotted to the city through the CARES Act.
The budget includes funding for five Houston Police Department cadet classes and four Houston Fire Department cadet classes. The approved budget also restored the city’s fund balance to more than 8%.
“It is a balanced budget that meets the needs of Houston residents,” Turner said in a press conference Wednesday. “We are funding parks, trash collection, libraries, and upgrades to our drainage and streets. This budget provides the basic services our residents expect and deserve.”
You read more about Houston’s FY2021 Operating Budget on the city’s website.
6 Houston Projects To Watch In 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted regular activity across most of Houston’s economy, but one sector has still been able to operate as an essential business throughout Harris County’s extended stay-at-home order: the construction industry. Though day-to-day operations on work sites have slowed to allow for screening, social distancing and rigorous cleaning, several large developments in Houston are still slated to deliver in 2020.
Houston City Council receives updates Monday on numerous projects
by Houston Herald
Members of the Houston City Council on Monday received a broad briefing on numerous projects underway — ranging from construction of a new municipal swimming pool to improvements at the municipally owned golf course and installation of a high-speed internet system.
—Heard from Don Romines, a former long-time city councilman, who asked the city to consider adopting a previously discussed guideline that would restrict spending down reserve funds. He made the request because he and he said others in the community are considered about the city’s spending in the middle of global pandemic. City Administrator Scott Avery recommended last October a policy that would outline the number of months of reserves that the city must maintain and not access. Romines also asked the council to consider a personnel policy that would put the six-member body in charge of department head oversight rather than the city administrator.
Houston may furlough all employees except police, fire to help make up $200 million budget shortfall, mayor pro tem says
by Jake Magee - Community Impact Newspaper
Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin, who also chairs the city's budget and fiscal affairs committee, said the city will likely furlough all employees who are not in the police or fire departments to make up an expected $200 million budget shortfall.
At a May 4 meeting with Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership, Martin spoke about how the city is adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic, including with its budget, which has a projected shortfall of about $200 million. With 85% of the city's budget going to payroll for over 20,000 employees, there is no way to reduce millions in spending without furloughs, Martin said.
Unlike the federal government, Houston cannot print money to make up a shortfall, he said. Legally, the city has to pass a balanced budget, Martin said.
Martin's chief of staff, Jessica Beemer, confirmed Martin's comments.
"The city is in a very tough spot right now," she said.
Turner: Coronavirus-battered 2021 city budget will be worst in history, require worker furloughs
by Jasper Sherer - Houston Chronicle
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday that the coronavirus crisis will impact “every facet of city governance” and require furloughs of city workers, though he declined to say how many employees would be forced to take unpaid leave.
Even before U.S. oil reached a lowpoint of minus-$40 a barrel Monday, city officials were preparing for Houston’s tightest budget ever, thanks to a precipitous drop in sales tax revenue and an already sharp plummet in oil prices.
The fresh collapse of the oil market prompted Turner for the first time to acknowledge that city employees would be furloughed, and the city would defer a number of payments, for the fiscal year that begins in July.
Officials, residents push back against plans for concrete plant near NW Houston neighborhood
by Perla Trevizo and Erin Douglas - Houston Chronicle
Critics of a proposed concrete batch plant near a historically black neighborhood in northwest Houston tried to make their point with pictures Tuesday.
As Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke out against the private project at a news conference, he was flanked by two large poster-sized cartoon images — one showing pieces of paper raining down on a concrete plant as the phrase “34 citations” floats against a polluted sky; the other depicting a large man with a shirt emblazoned with the name “Soto” sliding into third base as an umpire yells, “Not safe!”
City Council approves $6M tax break for live-work-play entrepreneurial community
by Andrea Leinfelder - Houston Chronicle
A live-work-play entrepreneurial community in west Houston is getting a $6 million tax break for helping stimulate Houston’s nascent tech ecosystem through its $150 million mixed-use development, a project that’s pledging to support more than 400 jobs by 2023.
The Founders District is being developed on 32 acres near the intersection of I-10 and Beltway 8. With the Cannon startup hub as an anchor, the development plans to create office spaces, restaurants, bars and apartment units. It wants to become a community where budding entrepreneurs can share ideas and build companies.
It’s the first mixed-use development to receive a tax abatement from the city of Houston in the past decade, and it aligns with what Mayor Sylvester Turner and others have spent the past few years seeking to create. City officials, business leaders, local universities and startup assistance programs are seeking to diversify Houston’s economy into one that nurtures entrepreneurship, particularly fast-growing companies that attract venture capital.
Judge Further Delays A Decision In Disputed Houston City Council District B Runoff
by Jen Rice - Houston Public Media
After a hearing on Monday, Harris County Judge Cory Sepolio said he’s disqualified from hearing the case because state law requires an election contest to be heard by a judge outside the county where the election is taking place. A special judge will be appointed and a new hearing scheduled.
The third-place candidate in the general election, Renee Jefferson Smith, is contesting the election results on the grounds that the second-place candidate, Cynthia Bailey, is ineligible due to a felony conviction. Tarsha Jackson, the front-runner in the general election, has said she believes Bailey is eligible to run.
The new runoff election could have been rescheduled for January 28, when a special election has already been called for state runoff races, but now District B residents won’t choose a council member until later in the year.
“Today, I’m calling on the courts to appoint the special judge and hear arguments in our case this week,” Jackson said. “The people of District B deserve to choose their next council member without further delay.”
Election Preview: These Are The Races On Houston’s 2019 Runoff Ballot
by Jen Rice - Houston Public Media
In November, Houstonians went to the polls to elect local leaders, including the Mayor, the Controller and all 16 City Council seats. But in the mayor’s race and 12 of the city council races, no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, meaning the top two vote-getters are headed to the runoff, set for Saturday, December 14. Early voting begins on Wednesday, November 27. Below is a brief guide to what’s on the runoff ballot this year.
Houston City Council accepts millions of dollars in grants to start flood-mitigation projects
by Adam Bennett - Houston Business Journal
Houston City Council accepted millions of dollars in grants Oct. 30 to start two long-awaited projects that city leaders hope could reduce flooding and protect the property of thousands of people.
Houston City Council voted unanimously to accept more than $5 million in federal grants to design and permit two major flood control projects.
One turns the old Inwood Forest Golf Course near Antoine & Little York into a 226-acre detention space.
“That detention basin will hold more water than the Astrodome,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
The other project adds ten gates to the Lake Houston dam. Nearby homes flooded during Harvey after releases upstream from Lake Conroe raised the lake level.
“This will allow much of that water to go out the back end,” said Mayor Turner. “This was, like, the number one project for the people in that Kingwood area.”
Houston City Council approves creation of Highland Village management district
by Emma Whelan - Community Impact Newspaper
Houston businessman Haidar Barbouti already owns all the commercial property in the shopping center on Westheimer Road in between Drexel Road and the Union Pacific Railroad line, known collectively as Highland Village. Now he plans to transform the public infrastructure along that strip too.
In 2017, the Texas Legislature designated Highland Village a management district, which is a special government entity that can issue bonds that are paid back through an assessment, or fee, applied to commercial properties within its boundaries. Management districts can also implement services such as landscaping and maintenance, adopt branding and offer other services.
After receiving the state’s designation, a management district in Houston must receive approval from the city before gaining the authority to issue bonds. Houston City Council voted to authorize the district Sept. 18.
After four-year effort, Houston adopts plan to better serve aging community
by Emma Whalen - Community Impact Newspaper
After a four-year public input process, a plan to protect Houston’s senior population was adopted in the form of an executive order signed Aug. 27 by Mayor Sylvester Turner.
The plan, developed in partnership with the AARP, outlines new city commitments, such as better sidewalks and walkability and increased access to affordable housing and accessible transportation options.
“The positive effect of today’s executive order will benefit everyone,” said Steven Williams of the Houston Health Department. “For example, accessible sidewalks with ramps are beneficial not only for seniors, but they are also beneficial for mothers pushing strollers, [for]children walking home from the school bus stop, for disabled people and for anyone who wants to get outside and for fresh air and exercise.”
The plan’s passage is accompanied by the creation of a citizen oversight committee to monitor its implementation and make adjustments as needed. Mayor Sylvester Turner also appointed City Director of Community Relations Janice Weaver as the Age Friendly Community Advisor to serve as a point person coordinating with Houston Health Department’s Area Agency on Aging as well as other city departments and community groups.
In 2015, under former Mayor Anisse Parker, Houston committed to forming an “Age Friendly Action Plan” as part of a nationwide effort led by the AARP and the World Health Organization. According to AARP data, one in four Houston residents is over the age of 50, and one in 10 is over the age of 65.
Major aerospace company, possible research and development campus coming to Houston Spaceport
by Jake Magee - Community Impact Newspaper
Houston Airport System officials are weeks away from finalizing a deal with a major aerospace company that plans to locate in the Houston Spaceport, and there are preliminary discussions between several area universities to create a research and development campus at the spaceport, Ellington Airport General Manager Arturo Machuca told area business leaders at a Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon July 30.
Machuca did not say what company plans to locate at the spaceport but said it would be on a 7-9-acre site within Phase 1 of the spaceport, which is now under development. The business would bring 120-200 jobs to the area and has the potential to spur additional developments, such as hotels, he said.
“We have ongoing convos with large companies that are looking at Houston to come here,” Machuca said. “Good news for us.”
The agreement will go before Houston City Council in the next few weeks, he said. Machuca has mentioned to Community Impact Newspaper he believes one day commercial aerospace company Virgin Galactic will be located at the spaceport.
Nearly $95 million worth of capital projects in Houston still await Hurricane Harvey reimbursement funds
by Emma Whelan - Community Impact Newspaper
Nearly $95 million worth of capital improvement projects in Houston—such as community centers, libraries and fire stations—remain stalled while the city awaits reimbursement from the federal and state governments.
Each year, Houston City Council approves an updated version of the four-year Capital Improvement Plan, which is a “wishlist” of projects throughout the city that are funded with a combination of Houston Public Works, tax increment reinvestment zone and other funding sources. It also includes projects that do not yet have funding allocated.
For the second year in a row, Houston City Council voted July 10 to approve the plan without any indication of when the city would receive reimbursement funding and be able to move forward with the portion of the projects that were put on hold.
Immediately after Hurricane Harvey, HPW diverted $95 million worth of funds originally allocated to some CIP projects to make urgent repairs and renovations, according to HPW.
The city’s goal, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, is to secure 90% reimbursement for these diverted funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 10% from the state of Texas. The reimbursement money will then be allocated to the specific list of delayed CIP projects, Turner said.
Houston to study fiber-to-home system
by Houston Herald
The Houston City Council unanimously approved a study Monday to determine the feasibility of operating a municipally owned fiber-to-the-home internet system.
The project will look at the condition of utility poles, costs and create a map to show how much fiber would be required to connect homes and businesses to a system that could offer speeds up to 1 gig. The review — which comes at minimum costs from a Springfield firm —is expected to take about three weeks or so, said Rob Harrington, director of economic development for the City of Houston.
Harrington recently attended a statewide summit, the Broadband Leaders Academy, which brought state and federal experts to a meeting organized by a broadband unit within the Missouri Department of Economic Development. It was sponsored by the Hawthorn Foundation, a private group that works to spark the economy in Missouri, and the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Attendees had the opportunity to engage in discussions with state leaders, receive the latest updates on important initiatives, and participate in two in-depth technical assistance sessions on community broadband planning and funding strategies.
Houston city council OKs $5.9M for new garbage trucks, solid waste vehicles
Jasper Sherer - Houston Chronicle
12 June 2019
Houston city council on Wednesday approved the $5.9 million purchase of 32 new vehicles for the city's Solid Waste Management Department, a move that comes amid complaints about the frequency of trash pickup and recent evidence of employees mixing trash and recyclables.
The bulk of the purchase -- about $4 million -- will go toward 14 standard garbage trucks, with another $285,000 funding a new recycling truck. The city will spend the remaining funds on a range of vehicles, such as grappling and roll-off trucks, used for various waste management functions.
The city has struggled of late with labor shortages and an aging garbage and recycling fleet, creating recent headaches for Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Councilman Dwight Boykins files paperwork indicating run for mayor
Houston Chronicle - Jasper Scherer
5 June 2019
Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins has filed paperwork indicating he will run for mayor, setting up a clash with incumbent Sylvester Turner and at least two other major candidates.
Boykins filed a report Tuesday afternoon with the city secretary designating a campaign treasurer, a necessary step to raise funds.
He listed former Houston mayor Lee P. Brown as his campaign treasurer.