This mayor is quite proud of his great big city

July 1st, 2017

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, left, and BAHEP Chairman Dr. Greg Smith thank Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner for coming down to Clear Lake to address the BAHEP luncheon at the Clear Lake Hilton.

By Mary Alys Cherry

Listening to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, you can easily tell how proud he is of the city. As he addressed the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership’s June 1 luncheon, he couldn’t stop boasting about America’s fourth largest city, and how it would be the 23rd largest in the world if it was a country.

How it added 18,000 jobs in April – its best growth in 35 years, how the Texas Medical Center is growing, how it is the most diverse city in the country with 140 languages spoken, how we hosted the most watched Super Bowl ever, and how “The Los Angeles Times wrote ‘New York City is in Houston’s rear view mirror.’”

Looking around the ballroom at the Clear Lake Hilton at the smiles on everyone’s faces in the sellout crowd, it was easy to tell his audience was enjoying listening as much as he was enjoying his storytelling – giving him a standing ovation.

Webster City Manager Wayne Sabo, right, stops to visit with Ron Servis of Judge Ed Emmett’s office and Carla Medlenka, Houston Methodist St. John Hospital marketing manager, at the BAHEP luncheon at the Clear Lake Hilton.

Several area mayors were in the crowd, including Mark Denman of Nassau Bay, Michel Bechtel of Morgan’s Point, Louis Rigby of La Porte and Carl Joiner of Kemah. Houston City Councilman Dave Martin introduced him. Other elected officials included City Councilors Amanda Fenwick of Clear Lake Shores, Jack Christie and David Robinson of Houston, Bob Warters of Nassau Bay, Pat Van Houte of Pasadena, Theresa Vasquez Evans of Kemah, Nancy Ojeda of La Porte and Andrea Wilson of Webster.

Others BAHEP President Bob Mitchell welcomed included Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa, San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, Ellington Airport Director Arturo Machuca, Barrios President Robbie McAfoos, GeoControl Systems President Rose Zarcaro, MEI Technologies President David Cazes and Space Center Houston President William Harris.

Mayor Turner’s first budget receives unanimous vote in record time

May 26th, 2016

4-1XMayorXSylvesterXTurnerBy unanimous vote and in record time, Houston City Council approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s first city budget.  In stark contrast to budget discussions of years past that lasted into the wee hours of the next morning, the vote came just before noon May 25 and nearly a month ahead of the normal schedule and with District E Councilman Dave Martin voting in support for the first time since being sworn in on council.

The budget, which totals $2.3 billion and balances a $160 million budget deficit, is an estimated $82 million less than the previous fiscal year and is thought to be structurally sound, fiscally conservative and balanced with recurring and nonrecurring revenues. In addition, the Fund Balance will be maintained at 9.2 percent, up from 7.5 percent, as required by the financial policy adopted by City Council.

“Passage of this budget sends a strong message to the credit rating agencies about the importance we are placing on city finances,” said Mayor Turner.  “This was accomplished not by putting hundreds of hard-working city employees in the unemployment line or by cutting critical services that Houstonians rely on and deserve. Instead, it was done via shared sacrifice and laser fine attention to fiscal management.”

Cost increases, voter imposed revenue limitations, a broken appraisal system and the economic downturn combined to create a $160 million budget shortfall, the worst fiscal challenge the city has faced since before The Great Recession, when hundreds of city workers had to be laid off.

The mayor’s budget eliminates the shortfall, maintains the city’s healthy savings account and cuts overall spending by $82 million, when compared to the current budget year. Library and park services were maintained and there were no layoffs of police and fire fighters. There is also funding for an additional police cadet class, for a total of five classes, the most in recent memory. For the first time in years, the number of police officers at HPD is starting to inch up.

After much discussion by City Council members and input received by Houstonians, Mayor Turner announced that the budget also maintains the city’s commitment to the trash sponsorship program that would have affected nearly 21,000 homeowners in District E if eliminated. Additionally, the Council District Service Fund, which was originally proposed to be cut by nearly 75 percent, was maintained and will be funded at $750,000 in Fiscal Year 2017, Martin said afterwards.

Martin has been vocal in keeping these funds in place as District E has historically been underfunded in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, and over the past two years he has been able to use these funds to better improve the infrastructure and quality of life in the council district.

Councilman Martin expressed thanks to Mayor Turner for his leadership in the past five months of his first term in office and for proposing an operating budget that will prepare the city for additional upcoming financial challenges including unfunded pension obligations. As chairman of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Subcommittee on Debt Financing and Pensions, Martin said he looks forward to working with the administration and his colleagues in preparing an agreement to be presented to the State Legislature this October.

Next month, Mayor Turner will release his proposed Fiscal Years 2017-2021 Capital Improvement Plan. Councilman Martin has already been active in discussing needs for District E and said he looks forward to continuing discussions related to mobility needs in both Kingwood and Clear Lake.

“Each city department, the employee unions, City Council, the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones and various other parties worked together to identify cost savings and efficiencies while also minimizing employee layoffs and maintaining the critical services our residents rely on and deserve,” Turner said. I want to thank everyone for coming to the table to work together.”

Early in the budget process, Mayor Turner asked City Council not to tinker with his budget proposal, warning that even one small change could upset the delicate balance achieved as a result of shared sacrifice and put the city at risk for a credit rating downgrade. In the spirit of working together, council heeded his request, submitting very few amendments, none of which had a budgetary impact. This also contrasts with previous years when there have been dozens of amendments put on the table.

The budget adopted is for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016.

Bay Area Houston Magazine