Property Values, Tax Increase, and Our Burgeoning Debt – Good Evening, Mayor and City Council,

Preface: In order to maintain our current revenue stream City Council has agreed on an increase to our property tax rate from $ .4159 to $ .4313 for tax year 2018 to compensate for the lower property values on the tax roll.  Those residents whose assessed value increased or remained the same as the prior year will see an increase in their property tax for 2018.  Those whose assessed value declined will see their tax bills remain the same or may see a decrease.  Here’s a random example of the current situation, a beautiful 3200 square foot home in Southdale built in 1996 that suffered flood damage and was completely rebuilt.  It sold this past July:

  • HCAD Value as of January 1, 2017     $811,160
  • HCAD Value as of January 1, 2018     $737,291  (a decline of $73,869)
  • Sold Price as of July 30, 2018     $670,000 (an additional decline of  $67,291

Assuming the new owners protest the 2018 appraisal, this property’s value on the tax roll will be lowered a total of $141,160, or about 17%, from the 2017 value.  And this is just one of approximately 2000 homes that flooded in Bellaire, many with lowered HCAD appraisals FY2018.

Until our property values rise beyond pre-Harvey levels the City will need to find additional revenue streams just to fund our annual budget.  Another bond issue in 2019 will mean more debt as the bonds are sold, leading to greater cost for debt service – which leads to an even greater demand for revenue.  Find information on bond issues here.

And a link to the adopted budget FY2019 can be accessed here: 

See an overview of the 2019 budget here: FY2019_Budget_Brief

Is it time for City Council to re-examine the City’s priorities?

Good Evening, Mayor and City Council,

Long before the 2016 bond issue City Council could have held a public meeting to solicit input regarding sidewalks. Put the questions to the residents: Do we need more sidewalks? If so, why and where? What would be an acceptable width – 3 feet, or 4, or 5? On just one side of a street, or on both sides? What might cause a street to be excluded from any sidewalks? What concerns do residents have about a sidewalk retrofitted into their yards?

At the very least the $4 million dollars for the stand-alone sidewalks should have been a separate proposition on the bond referendum, as originally proposed.  Now we are told it was part of Proposition 1 – to design and construct streets and drainage systems with sidewalks on at least one side of the street.

But nothing on the ballot referred to stand-alone sidewalks, and the word transparency comes to mind. Residents were blindsided by neighborhood meetings about stand-alone sidewalks that no one knew anything about, others claim they were never notified of such meetings. Then last month the sidewalk width was increased from four feet to five. Or maybe it will remain 4 feet – for some of us. And maybe not all the streets will receive sidewalks after all.

If sidewalks had been installed when our blocks of Locust were developed in the 1940s it would have been great, or if the sidewalk ordinance for new construction had remained in place as the new homes were built most of the street would have them.

Now there are mature trees and lovely lawns and plantings in the path of the proposed sidewalks. Several trees will be cut down. Others have root systems that will be affected, and since it takes years for problems to show up who knows what will happen. It’s the same story for many of the other streets in these projects, and the cause of opposition from so many residents.

To me the sidewalk issue is just one of the problems residents have to deal with in Bellaire. Another is the Council’s apparent failure to grasp the reality of our situation, that just about a year ago a third of our housing stock suffered intrusion from flood waters and many of our residents are still living with the aftermath.

Perhaps members of Council think that five foot sidewalks are the panacea. The new catchword is safety. And assurances that more concrete won’t cause flooding. One expert says it won’t, another says it will. Personally, I think covering permeable areas with concrete will cause problems, and we really don’t need this rancor and divisiveness right now.   Bellaire already has an image problem. Adding five foot wide concrete sidewalks will not help our image or our property values.

As a Realtor I can access information on Bellaire real estate activity. Sold prices for Bellaire residential properties have declined since the flood, and not just for properties that flooded. For the 3 month period of June, July, and August of 2017 the average sales price was $278 per square foot, for same period in 2018 the average was $249, lower by $30 per square foot. That can equal about $30,000 for every 1000 square feet of house. Many listings for Bellaire properties contain the remarks Did Not Flood – in bold print.

The HCAD appraisal roll for Bellaire is lower for 2018 and may continue to decline over the next couple of years as lower sale prices are reflected on the roll and more property owners protest their appraisals. New houses replacing those lost in the flood should help prices rise, but not quickly. Our tax rate will increase to raise more revenue.

Current bonded debt of $125 million is higher than it has ever been, with almost a quarter of our budget paid out for debt service. Yet Council is planning another $50 million dollar bond issue for next year. If that passes and the bonds are sold the City would owe over $170 million dollars in bonded debt, backed by our property taxes. One false step, one economic downturn, one more flood, and what happens to our City finances?

What does it say about a city’s image when we can’t replace our Welcome to Bellaire sign on the old spot on Bellaire Blvd just inside the tracks? Or can’t afford a new Library. But we can spend millions on sidewalks we’ve managed to live without for a hundred years?

Every penny of the remaining bond money should go to street and drainage construction, yet over a year and a half after the bonds were approved not one of the badly needed drainage or street projects has begun. We need fewer consultants and studies. Use that money to pay for a greater police presence on the street.   Our city services, our police and fire departments, our schools and our location are what draw people to Bellaire, not arguments over sidewalks. We need to work to restore our image as a City where a home is a sound investment.

Thank you.

Delivered at City of Bellaire Council Meeting on September 24, 2018

About Jane McNeel

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