Don’t be fooled by recent City Council votes on sidewalks. Five foot wide sidewalks are still the standard with street reconstruction. The stand-alone sidewalks have been shelved but the funds have not been redirected to other projects like new streets or drainage, even as Council is considering another $47 million dollar bond issue in 2019. It’s important to note this as City Council discusses the need for more debt because, according to the Mayor, of “our most critical infrastructure needs: streets and drainage, water and wastewater”.
About 2 years ago a majority of Bellaire City Council chose to allot $4 million on stand-alone sidewalks over the objections of the Mayor. Proposition 1 for $24 million was marketed as “a systematic approach to replacing streets and drainage systems according to their relative priority, with sidewalks on at least one side of each street as they are replaced”.
When did stand-alone sidewalks become ‘critical’ to our infrastructure needs? Stand-alone sidewalks are concrete sidewalks that would be installed along entire residential blocks, not tied to new streets or drainage but just retrofitted into existing landscaping.
One of the 2016 Bond projects that actually addresses our aging infrastructure is Group B Phase 1, the construction of streets and drainage with sidewalks on one side for:
4900-5000 block of Imperial
4900-5000 block of Mayfair
The Contracted Cost is $3,982,834. Six blocks of NEW street and drainage plus a sidewalk – for less than the amount allotted to stand-alone sidewalks many residents do not want.
Most of the sidewalks in the first two phases of the stand-alone projects have been withdrawn because of petitions from as many as 90% or more of the residents on those streets. The contractor for the first phase has withdrawn their bid. So Council discussed combining the remaining streets into another package to go out for bids. (See the spreadsheet at the bottom of this article.)
Let’s see – $ 4 million dollars — 4 to 6 new streets with new drainage — or blocks of stand-alone sidewalks most residents have shown they do not want. Our current bonded debt is $124.8 million, with a $47 million bond issue under discussion for 2019 and another $36 million bond issue in 2022.
Regardless of whether or not the entire $4 million will now be spent on these stand-alone sidewalks, it was the intent of a majority on Council to do so. Is this how the City Manager and City Council manage our money? Seems more like mismanagement to me.
What about the City Manager’s plans for Spruce and Fifth Streets? Why narrow lanes, add public parking that will infringe on private parking areas and crowd out local businesses? Why build an expensive streetscape on a commercial street behind a grocery store? Who stands to benefit?
Not the current businesses – they already have private parking available. Not H-E-B, who built their store bordering a 60 foot wide street to accommodate the many delivery vehicles that service the store daily. Not Bellaire residents who patronize all these businesses – they already have a place to park.
What other businesses are handy for residents to visit if they park behind H-E-B? The public parking spots will likely be put to good use by H-E-B employees. They already park along the 5200 block of Cedar.
The Comprehensive Plan calls for the City to support our small businesses. “Offer mini-grants to existing commercial property and business owners to help finance building façade improvements, enhanced landscaping, or other site upgrades that might not otherwise occur where no construction activities are planned that would trigger compliance with newer development standards.” Nothing about blocking access or narrowing streets.
So again, who stands to benefit other than engineers and contractors? Are there some developers in the shadows? Don’t we have more important needs, like streets and drainage?
FYI: About $4.5 million of the 2016 bond issue was spent on new water meters. The cost will be much higher over the life of that $4.5 million of debt. West U installed about a thousand fewer water meters a few years ago for less than $2 million, paid in cash from their capital reserves.
A number of water line leaks within a few feet of the new meters have occurred in the Bellaire installations, creating additional costs when plumbers or City crews are called out to make repairs.
Another $8 million of bond funds went for the wastewater plant and system, all part of the $12.8 million Siemens contract. Why are more wastewater projects planned in the next bond issue? Let’s see a list of future repairs or replacements that are said to be required.
How much debt is too much? We’ll pay over $9 million in debt service this year, with little hope of building up any capital reserves. More debt will only drive the City into a deeper hole. What’s the tipping point?
Find more information on the bond planning session here: https://www.bellairecivicclub.com/future-bond-program-planning-session-a-possible-47-million-bond-issue-in-2019/
Email your thoughts or opinions to the Mayor and members of City Council in care of our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton, at firstname.lastname@example.org