Sent to Mayor Friedberg and City Council 8-26-2019

Dear Mayor Friedberg and Members of Bellaire City Council,

Please understand as you begin tonight’s Budget session that the term ‘budget’ does not equal ‘spend every penny of revenue available and then borrow more’. There is such a thing as saving for future expenditures. Capital improvements to streets and facilities, a new Library, a new Public Works building. Build up a rainy day fund for unexpected expenses or economic downturns.  Budget wisely and stop borrowing money.

Purchase city vehicles, stop leasing them. The average life of a new vehicle is 150,000 miles, 8 to 10 years. In a City with an area of 3.3 square miles and with proper maintenance a good truck or SUV should last at least 10 years or more, and still retain some equity for resale. Or perhaps leasing new vehicles every year or two is the City Manager’s way of getting rid of the last semblance of our City seal.  Whatever the reasoning, it’s a costly and shortsighted financial decision.

I listened in astonishment to Jim Harrison argue with Council members about the benefits of the City absorbing tens of thousands of dollars in costs for credit card fees at the recent Budget session. We foolishly pay our home water bill by mailing a check. Now I realize it would be to our advantage to pay online with a credit card – we’d save postage, the cost of a check and an envelope, and get cash back on our card. What a deal.  (Update 8/28/19: Line items for Credit Card Fees  in the FY2020 Budget total $96,000)

Your job is to inform the Finance Department to pass on the full cost of credit card processing fees to the users for every credit card charge in every Department.  An alternative is to collect fees for credit card users. Find the requirements in the Texas Municipal Code.  It may not be a huge savings, but it reflects smart fiscal policy.

Cut loose at least three or more non-production employees from the offices of the City Manager and the Finance Director, permanently. I know you don’t like comparisons to other area municipalities, but I find it interesting that West University has 126 full time employees, compared to Bellaire’s 184.5. You might take a look at salary structures for some of our area communities, too. Do your own research, don’t rely on numbers provided by others.  (Update 8/28/19: The West University PD lists a staff of 38.  Bellaire PD staff totals 59.5, which may be necessary due to the problems with Loop 610.  That still means West U operates with a smaller staff.)

Require a 10% non-salary cut in expenditures in every Department. The extra $929,000 in re-appropriated bond funds that the City Manager wants to use to plan the next bond election? Apply it to actual Capital Improvement projects. I’ve heard resident after resident complain about the overall feel and appearance of the City. South Rice and Bissonnet especially look tattered, tired, and worn out with patches, broken curbs, and bedraggled esplanades. Piles of dirt and pools of water abound, in view for weeks, sometimes months. No wonder our real estate market remains in a state of flux.

You, the elected representatives of Bellaire’s residents, wanted the responsibility of running this city, and it’s up to you to take control. You were not elected to kowtow to the City Manager. It is obvious that he is highly adept at influencing and manipulating you, or at least most of you, into accepting his vision of what we should be. He has promoted costly, divisive, unnecessary, and shortsighted projects. Aided by his handpicked staff he has an excuse for every misstep. Please, take this opportunity to begin to set our financial house in order and cut wasteful spending.

Sincerely,

Jane McNeel