The annual community meeting related to the City of Houston capital improvement plan (or CIP) is to be held this week on Tuesday, Feb 28th, at 6:30 pm at the Sharpstown Community Center, 6600 Harbor Town Dr.
Mayor Turner and the At-Large Council Members are expected to attend, along with short presentations by the Public Works and Parks departments. There should be some opportunity for public input and Q &A, but it varies by district, with some council members allowing live questions via microphone, some requiring written questions on card, or none at all like CM Cohen in District C.
The CIP process this year is even more meaningless and ineffectual than usual. While historically projects in the latter years of the CIP plan were always subject to rescheduling or cancellation, virtually every project in the proposed 2018 CIP that has not already started construction is at risk and is merely a placeholder. Public Works officials have stated clearly that the proposed project list ignores current law which places an annually increasing soft cap on property taxes. This will be used as leverage to repeal the cap and hike property taxes across the city. Mayor Turner has stated he will place this on the ballot in November. http://www.houstontx.gov/cip/Dist_J_Project_List.pdf
Rebuild Houston Dedicated Street & Drainage Fund is tapped to pay for printing of water bills
Last week council approved another diversion of funds from the Rebuild Houston Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund (DDSRF), with those funds allocated to pay for the printing and management of city water bills. Four council members including Kubosh, Le, Stardig, and Knox voted No.
There should be no mistake that the concept of a “lock box” is a mere fantasy, with numerous reports of DDSRF funds being diverted for all manner of spending including hike & bike trails, council district service funds (which have been widely used to fund HPD over time), and now printing of water bills. When we need to divert funds from street repair to pay for water bill printing you know something is seriously wrong.
Many neighbors are unaware that the Rebuild Houston drainage fee was immediately tapped for the salaries, benefits, and pension costs of almost 500 public works employees. A look at the budgets before and after the passage of Rebuild Houston confirms this occurred. Thus, funds that voters were told were to be used for maintenance like potholes, drainage, and streets were instead simply used to pay for existing headcount. Over the last five years, over $125 million was used for employee costs rather than street and drainage projects as promised when Rebuild Houston was approved.
At the Tuesday meeting you’ll probably hear a lot about recent street and parks projects for our community. Bellaire, Fondren, and the Estates Masonry Wall were all funded with bond debt of almost $50 million. Just a few years ago, Rebuild Houston was touted as pay-as-you-go financing, with infrastructure bonds compared to credit cards. But, the tax zones (TIRZ), all off-the-books, Enron-like special units, are in the process of issuing $200 million in new debt this year, with the balance soon approaching $1 billion. Pay-as-you-go is an illusion.
With the city administrative fee to TIRZ twenty jumping from 360K to $3.6 million, Mayor Turner has redirected almost $4 million in TIRZ twenty funds this and every year going forward, to balance the city budget. The effect is that all remaining cash flow for our zone is erased, leaving almost nothing for projects.
Thus TIRZ twenty has approved plans to refinance their existing debt for a dozen more years adding $20 million in interest costs and earning all the vendors a nice paycheck. You won’t hear about that from any city or community sources. But, this has NOT been approved by city council and I continue to lobby the TIRZ for public meetings and input where we can ask questions and get responses on the record.
I’ll say again, when we are diverting “dedicated” street money to pay for printing & mailing of water bills, we must be in serious financial trouble. I encourage all neighbors to attend this meeting, if you can stand it, and listen for yourself while evaluating the background information I’ve provided.