What Happened To That $54 Million Dollars?

In response to requests for a printed version of my comments at the October 15, 2018 Council meeting I am posting it below:

Good Evening Mayor, City Council, and Citizens,

The running quote in the 2019 city budget is Bellaire is still Bellaire. Whatever that means. I see a Bellaire in disarray, a City that seems to be constantly in some sort of turmoil. I’ve spent more time in the past 4 years sending emails to City Council and speaking out at Council meetings than I did for the prior 50 years. If I follow the timeline that’s about the time we got a new city manager.

I reviewed the remarks made by the current members of council when they were running for office. The Mayor stressed continuity of leadership. Council member Pappas mentioned small town atmosphere and our City of Homes, while Council member Montague focused on infrastructure and our police and firefighters.

Council member Pollard was concerned about the budget and spending conservatively. Council member McLaughlan emphasized scrutiny of bond money and concern for the downtown area. Council member Fife mentioned flood and storm water management and our downtown area and Council member Verma’s focus was similar – drainage and flood mitigation and communication with citizens.

Not one word about the importance of sidewalks or pathways. No promises to run up tens of millions of dollars of bonded debt, either, or to hide plans for a portion of that debt in impressive language about drainage, streets, water and wastewater lines. They didn’t mention their intent to impose their will on residents without consulting them. Bellaire isn’t a fiefdom, it’s a democracy with elected representatives. Who can also be removed from office.

With the exception of Council member Verma members of City Council developed a $54 million dollar bond issue in 2016. Buried in that bond issue was four million dollars for stand-alone sidewalks, four and a half million dollars for fancy water meters we could have lived without, another eight-plus million to repair or replace equipment in our waste water system rather than make those repairs over time as needed. Our wastewater plant was in compliance with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Seventeen million for essentially unnecessary expenditures. Almost a third of the total debt, and now they’re planning on another forty million dollar bond issue for next year.

The 2016 bond issue might be excused as irrational exuberance; we will take in so much in future taxes that we can afford to fritter away seventeen million or so. But not so much now. Now our tax base has shrunk and our tax rate has increased. We should catch up eventually but for now every penny counts.

I’ve asked this question before, but I’m asking again – who is running this City? According to our City Charter the City Manager shall be the chief executive officer and the head of the administrative branch of the City government. The City Council is responsible for just about everything else including hiring the City Manager. Mr. Hofmann actually stated in council meetings that Council could redirect him at any time.

So although it appears that the City Manager is promoting most of these projects, City Council is actually responsible. The branding study fiasco and the disappearance of our city seal from vehicles and printed matter, the pathways plan with the 6 and 8-foot wide concrete paths, and the current projects that include 5-foot wide concrete sidewalks.

But the best is saved for last – the proposed conversion of 3 blocks of Spruce and Fifth streets, at a cost of millions of dollars, from spacious 60 foot wide commercial thoroughfares that accommodate the new H-E-B and numerous local businesses, into a glorified parking area – but not for those local businesses. (See http://www.bellairecivicclub.com/not-in-my-backyard-but-the-city-manager-just-wont-give-up-why/)

Meanwhile a block away the 5200 block of Cedar has become incredibly ugly, even though it’s the street that fronts eating places and small shops. Council is responsible for that, too.

Council and the City Manager seem determined to spend millions of borrowed dollars to turn Bellaire into a mini-Sugar Land, to erase our identity and turn us into some half-baked copy of a bland master-planned community.  That’s not my Bellaire.

Delivered at City of Bellaire Council Meeting on October 15, 2018

From the City Council agenda for Monday, October 15, 2018

RAC Industries, LLC has withdrawn the  bid for the Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 Group D Phase 1 Sidewalk project, Bid No. 18-010.  Council discussed combining the remaining street into one Group.  Here’s a list of streets removed from Group D Phase 1 and 2 as of October 1, 2018. The 4500 block of Teas and 4600 blocks of Oleander and Laurel have also been removed.  Here’s the City’s summary of the meeting.

The ordinance calling for installation of sidewalks along each side of a property abutting a public street has been repealed.  For now no more orphan sidewalks.

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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