A Breath Of Fresh Air In Bellaire City Council Chambers

The recent Bellaire City Council meeting on March 2, 2020, which included a Workshop regarding Revised Street and Drainage Reconstruction Selection Criteria, once again revealed a marked change in attitude by Council members.      

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New members Lewis, Wesely, and Hotze drilled down on the possible changes to the criteria, revised from a 2015 report prepared by ARKK Engineering’s James Andrews, through a number of questions for City Manager Paul Hofmann and Mr. Andrews.   

The decisions to reconstruct streets and drainage are based on a mix of 60% for drainage and 40% for street condition.  The drainage rate is gauged by flood damage to homes from prior floods, but the repair costs are drawn from the Harvey flood.

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At some point Bellaire residences have been sorted into Tiers based on when they were built, and a portion of the point system used depends on the age of a home, whether it flooded or not.  This was discussed at the last Flood Mitigation Task Force meeting in 2019.

Council member Lewis, who holds a Ph.D and degrees in geology and geophysics, presented her views on how our flood issues might be addressed.  She suggested a more scientific process should be incorporated and that overland flow had not been integrated into the criteria. 

Council member Weseley questioned the inclusion of 4900-5000 Maple, since it appears to be in good condition.  Turns out that portion of Maple has received an asphalt overlay since the ranking list was prepared which may add at least 10 to 20 years, or more,  to the life of the street surface.  Mr. Hofmann explained that the score will now be modified, but there may still be subsurface issues.

Council member Lewis questioned the ranking of 4800 Glenmont, which she stated is also in good condition and has no history of structural flooding, only street flooding. 

A Bellaire resident spoke before Council and questioned the reasoning behind the reconstruction of the 4300-4400 blocks of Edith.  Edith is the last street in Southdale,  contains only two residences, and runs between the Public Works office and lot and the water and wastewater plant.  Many streets in Southdale are in greater need of repair.

Council member Hotze asked about the installation of a large culvert box during the TxDOT construction at the 610/69 interchange at the intersection of Terminal St.  Bellaire contributed $1 million to the installation of a 10′ x 8′ culvert that runs from Westpark to Glenmont.  Mr. Andrews explained that a piece of the 10′ x 8′ drainage along 610 Loop is still missing, from Glenmont to Cedar.

Council member Hotze asked why 30″ concrete culverts are installed for storm water, then the flow is restricted?  The answer from James Andrews was that the culverts are used for detention. But when queried, he admitted there was not that much detention available.  He said the City wants to contain a 100-year storm in the right-of-way.

Evidently that’s what has occurred on Bolivar and Spruce and Fifth, which are being lowered a foot or more.  How will that help the rest of Bellaire?  Will the Southdale street reconstructions be lowered, too?  That was not addressed, but if you want to see what happens under this plan take a drive down Bolivar or the 5200 block of Spruce – the site of the City Manager’s beautification plan.

All this led to a larger question by Council member Lewis – why is the City Manager devoting almost one million dollars of bond funds to develop new projects for street and drainage before the results of a $700,000 joint study with TxDOT and Harris County Flood Control are presented?  

Why not use that million dollars for actual repairs to street and drainage?  Council member Pappas worked with Mr. Hofmann to enumerate the current funds available: $4 million that was withdrawn from the stand-along sidewalk projects; $6 million in 2016 bonds not yet issued; $4.3 million in grants from FEMA.  Plus almost $1 million of leftover bond funds from prior bond issues.  That totals over $15 million dollars available for use on current projects, and there may be more bond funds not yet committed or needed.  

What’s Left Of the $54 million In Bonds?

It is difficult to ascertain just what’s left of the $54 million in 2016 bond funds.  How much is spent, how much has been committed, how much remains.  Several of the BBB2016 Bond projects are still open.  Here’s what we know: 

Proposition 2, $5.6 million for municipal facilities: Spent.

Proposition 1, $24 million for streets, drainage, and sidewalks: $10.7 million has been spent or committed for projects.  Only one project awaits a final contract: 

  • A little over a $1 million has been awarded for the final project, Group C Phase 3 design and third party review for street, drainage, and sidewalk replacement.  Only the contract for construction remains.  Total budget is $7.6 million.

Proposition 3, $24.8 million for water and wastewater improvements: $18.4 million has been spent or committed, including $12.8 million for the Siemens contract. Only one project in that group remains open:

  • $824K in design and third party review contracts have been awarded for that final project, Group A Phase 3  – water line replacement, but no construction contract as yet.  The total budget is $5.6 million.

And apparently the $3 million from Group C Phase 2 for flap gates from Prop 3 has been put on hold.  Harris County Flood Control has not approved this project. 

All in all, there seems to be a fair amount of bond funds still in the City coffers.  Maybe it’s time for an accurate accounting of that $54 million dollar pot of money.

Mr. Hofmann wants to retain $6 million to use for some future project after the joint Bellaire-TxDOT-HCFCD study is complete.  Apparently he is ready to commit City bond funds to such a venture even though that’s not up to him, it is the purview of City Council.  And if funds are required for future flood projects stemming from the joint study, shouldn’t that be up to the voters through a new bond issue?

The Revised Street and Drainage Reconstruction Selection Criteria was not even brought up for consideration at the ensuing Council meeting on March 2nd.

Now What?

During the evening Mayor Friedberg once again scolded Council for ‘kicking the can down the road’, to emphasize his views on the need for infrastructure repairs.  What the Mayor fails to address in this sort of statement is that he was one of 6 Council members in 2016 that approved the no-bid Siemens contract and committed $12.8 million of the 2016 bond funds. 

$4.6 million to replace all the water meters in Bellaire based on low-flow problems with some of 70 meters inspected by Siemens.  Another $7.5 million in renovations to our then-functioning wastewater treatment plant and $678K to Siemens for design and management of the project.  Paid from 2016 bond funds.  Carrying ongoing costs of a couple of million additional dollars over 20 years or more.

Neither of those Siemens projects had been on anyone’s list until City Manager Paul Hofmann and then Public Works Director Brant Gary (now Assistant City Manager) promoted them.  Leaks from water meter lines are still popping up on a weekly basis.  Meanwhile the wastewater plant renovations were scheduled to be closed out in June or July of 2019, but 8 months later that closeout has not occurred. 

And that $12.8 million would have replaced a lot of old water lines.  Would have saved some wear and tear on that can and the road, too.  No problem, we’ll just borrow another $40 or $50, or even $60 million of taxpayer supported debt.  Right?

Find the History of the Siemens Contract Here: Where Do We Stand On The $12.8 Million Siemens Contract?

Bolivar – Before and After A Street and Drainage Reconstruction

Watch the March 2, 2020, Council Workshop and meeting here

Bellaire’s Debt is $127.5 million at the end of FY2019, one of the highest per capita in the state. Another bond issue is under discussion for 2021.  Find Bellaire on the Texas Comptroller’s list for 2018; more bonds have been sold since then: https://comptroller.texas.gov/transparency/local/debt/city.php?cityname=Bellaire&citysubmit=GO

Email  the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk and request that it be forwarded: tdutton@bellairetx.gov

About Jane McNeel

Bellaire resident since 1956. Email: bellairebcc@gmail.com. Find more information on 'About This Site' in the main menu.
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