August 9, 2017

2017 Citizen Survey Establishes Benchmark

Earlier this year the City initiated a broad citizen survey, to get a sense of how we’re doing in providing services and an aggregate view of residents’ sentiments about their community.  The survey was overseen by the University of Houston Master of Public Administration program, which analyzed the findings in a detailed statistical report.  While we did learn some things we can put to immediate use, the real value of this inaugural survey is in establishing a benchmark for tracking our performance over time through periodic future surveys.

July 24, 2017

The FY 2018 Budget Story

The City Manager’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 does what it’s supposed to do.  It’s structurally balanced, meets all established parameters, and is guided by the City Council’s adopted Priorities within the constraints suggested by conservative fiscal forecasting.  It’s a good budget that reflects the City’s solid financial position and continued prudent management for the coming fiscal year.  (The proposed budget and accompanying presentation slides are on the City’s website, here.)

The proposed budget also tells the macro level story of where things stand right now, both the progress we’ve made in recent years and the challenges that lie ahead.  No, the sky is not falling, but we are paying careful attention to the numbers and how they’re trending.  To understand the FY 2018 budget in context, start with the ending General Fund balance and work backwards from there; as we’ve steadily drawn down that balance over the past several years our policy of maintaining a 60-day minimum has become our primary constraint.  Emphasizing these are conservative projections, the trend is readily apparent:

June 22, 2017

2-to-1 Partnership with TxDOT Adds Drainage to 610/59 Interchange Project, Renews Focus on Long-Term Needs

The IH-610 drainage system is a major component of our storm water infrastructure.  Unfortunately, its woefully insufficient capacity also makes it a major problem contributing to flooding.  During heavy rainfall events the freeway tends to act as a dam to the general flow of runoff, causing water levels to rise on the frontage roads, rendering them impassable.  As rain continues to fall with nowhere else to go, it backs up into the adjacent neighborhoods.  Simply put, even with some improvements made in 2000 the 50-plus-year-old system is outdated and severely undersized.

The City of Bellaire has for years raised the issue with TxDOT, but without any construction projects to tie it to we’ve not made much progress.  The impending 610/59 interchange project presented just such an opportunity, and we’re very pleased that TxDOT has responded to our renewed requests.  This week the City Council approved an agreement to partner with TxDOT in funding a new 10’ x 8’ box culvert adjacent to the interchange project, running 1,850 linear feet from just south of Westpark down to Glenmont.  Of the $3 million estimated cost, the City will contribute $1 million and TxDOT will fund the rest, including any overages.  By any measure this is a terrific deal for Bellaire.

June 20, 2017

Board and Commission Applications at an All-Time High

We’re fortunate in Bellaire to have a great number of citizen volunteers interested in and willing to serve on our several city boards and commissions.  So many, in fact, that this year we’ve set a new record.  Looking at just the past 10 years we’ve averaged around 31 applicants, ranging from a low of 25 to a high of 36.  This year we fielded 42 applications, exceeding the average by more than a third.  The City Clerk observed that for the first time she can recall, a few of the appointment ballots extended onto a second page.

May 11, 2017

In Search of Our Brand Identity (It’s More Than Just a Logo)

Our ongoing emphasis on improving the physical appearance of the City coincides nicely with a whirlwind of exciting projects rife with opportunities.  In just the past few weeks alone we’ve cut the ribbon at Evelyn’s Park, unveiled major renovations at the Nature Discovery Center in Russ Pitman Park, and kicked off the construction of new municipal facilities at Bellaire Town Square.  And that’s just in our public spaces.  We’ve also got a lot of new—and long overdue—redevelopment activity that’s refreshing the appearance of our commercial areas, with even more on the horizon.  Good things are happening, with great potential to transform our cityscape and community image in very positive ways.

Yet, as we seek to build upon these developments through coordinated design standards for other things like streets, utility infrastructure, landscaping, wayfinding signage and gateway entrances, it’s becoming increasingly evident that there’s something missing.  We’ve never really pinned down the “look and feel” we’re going for.  That missing look and feel is not just about visual appeal; it encompasses our very identity as a city.

April 24, 2017

Welcome to Your Evelyn’s Park!

It was a picture-perfect day in our picture-perfect new park.  The Grand Opening was a huge success and it was wonderful to celebrate with so many of you.  After years of anticipation and excitement, Evelyn’s Park did not disappoint!

April 7, 2017

North Bellaire Special Development Area Approved, with Modifications

In my last blog post I used the occasion of the public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment for the Chevron property to comment on the public hearing process generally.  I did not get into the proposal itself, as the City Council had not yet deliberated or made any decisions on it.  Now that we have, I’m pleased to report on the adoption—after several revisions—of the North Bellaire Special Development Area, to replace the former Business Park designation for the property.

Adoption of the final product brings to conclusion what has at times been a contentious process.  Council’s several revisions are responsive to community input, hopefully without giving up too much of the flexibility that the original proposal was intended to achieve.  It’s no doubt a delicate balance.

March 24, 2017

“Why Do We Have to Keep Coming Down Here?” – Public Hearings in the Planning and Zoning Process

Monday night’s public hearing on proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan was well attended and the participants and Council were actively engaged.  That’s a good thing.  Not so good, however, was a rather unhealthy dynamic that revealed itself in some of the comments we heard.  As Mayor, I feel I have a responsibility to speak up and address that dynamic, in hopes of facilitating a constructive community dialog and encouraging respect for all viewpoints.  Additionally, I take this opportunity to clarify the public hearing process and why we do things the way we do.  Note that I’m purposely not addressing the merits of the Comprehensive Plan proposal itself in this blog post, as Council has not yet deliberated or voted on it.

March 6, 2017

Police Department Staffing Trending in the Right Direction

At his Winter Community Meeting last week, Chief Holloway announced that for the first time in years the Police Department is down to just one sworn officer vacancy.  (Over the past few years we’ve averaged around four.)  And the signs are encouraging that the one remaining position may soon be filled.  To be clear, even with vacancies the Department is always fully staffed for every shift, and there is never a gap in coverage or reduction in service.  But obviously filling vacancies is a good thing and helps the Department do what it does best more efficiently.

February 21, 2017

Bond Program Project Selection and Schedule

Your city leaders have been diligently preparing for the next round of major projects, both in planning for the recent bond election and in the months since the voters overwhelmingly approved the Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 (BBB16) bond program.  I previously recapped the next steps and what to expect.

At last night’s City Council meeting, the City Manager presented to Council and the public the projects that have been identified for BBB16 and a master project schedule for the next three years.  For a copy of the report, click here.  At our upcoming Town Hall Meeting on March 6, the City Engineer will give a more detailed presentation concerning bond program implementation and our ongoing drainage work.  As I announced in my State of the City Address a few weeks ago, our scheduling this Town Hall is no doubt motivated by our desire to keep you informed following the heavy rain event last month, and the timing is also right as we get underway with the bond program.