City Council Deconstructs Rebuild Houston… A Little Bit

Houston is a city that is growing and changing rapidly.  That change obviously refers to the physical form of the city with new homes and businesses being built in every direction.  But those changes are more than material.  Thanks to an influx of new residents, increased national profile and more ways than ever to inform city government of infrastructure concerns, the expectations of Houstonians have also risen.  Areas that used to be under-represented are now becoming increasingly active. Citizens are taking a look at the city, and no longer being silent about its pothole-ridden streets or sub-par drainage.  All of those new factors seemed to be on display at this week’s City Council meeting.  Here’s the story from Mike Morris and Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle

Expressing impatience with the pace of street repairs under the ReBuild Houston program, City Council voted this week to siphon off some of the drainage-fee supported funds to speed up projects and help resolve smaller neighborhood problems sought by their constituents.

In an amendment to the city’s five-year $7.8 billion capital improvements program, the council voted to draw down $31 million from ReBuild Houston, prompting a warning from Mayor Annise Parker and Department of Public Works and Engineering officials, who said the move could drive the program’s cash flow into the red within two years and force the delay of other projects.

“Council members today would get a lot of short-term relief, but council members in a couple years may see delays,” Parker said.

Councilman Jerry Davis and other council members pushed back, saying constituent concerns have forced them to look for new funds.

“I respect the voices of the engineers and I respect the voices of Public Works,” Davis said. “But again, this is why we’re voted in to be here to make these decisions based upon the wants and needs of the people.”

This is a tough spot for all sides, and just a further admission of how huge Houston’s need for repairs is when contrasted with how little money is available (or how little political will there is to institute additional revenue streams like tax increases). These are issues that existed long before this council.  It’s not a problem they created, but they are trying desperately to be the ones who can save the day.

The pressure to act weighs particularly heavy on district Council Members, as they are the ones that handle more concerns related to their home and neighborhood, while At-Large members have a bit more freedom and flexibility to chase their desired cause.  This was on display at the Wednesday meeting.  Though Council Member Stephen Costello co-sponsored an amendment to free up Rebuild Houston funds for city projects, he and CM Christie (also At-Large) later voted against a separate amendment to allocate money specifically to Council districts.

The other reason Costello was against this the latter was obvious… If elected as the next Mayor, he’d be the one that has to deal with these shortfalls with a future Council, just when the Rebuild Houston should be picking up steam and yielding more tangible results.  The discussions this week at council are far from over, and will likely be cornerstones of the 2015 municipal elections.

Off the Kuff has another take.

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