As the year draws to a close we pause for a moment to reflect on all we have accomplished, and what it means looking ahead to the coming year and beyond. Throughout 2016 your City Council has been hard at work, confronting challenges head-on and planning for many important, long-term improvements. Here are some of the highlights.
It was a big year for infrastructure, as we are now completing the last phase of the Rebuild Bellaire 2005 bond program and the voters have overwhelmingly approved its successor, Better Bellaire 2016. Streets, drainage, sidewalks, municipal facilities, water and wastewater projects are all on the horizon. That makes all the more timely the City Engineer’s substantial drainage study presented this fall, which provides new data and recommendations to guide our ongoing infrastructure work, both locally and with regional partners, to combat flooding.
Separately but relatedly, the demands of our aging utility infrastructure brought into focus the steadily declining Enterprise Fund balance, a trend we’ve been monitoring for years and knew we’d eventually have to deal with. The problem resulted from decades of artificially low water and sewer rates, which had not been incrementally adjusted to keep up with rising costs. After careful consideration and with considerable public input we developed a modified rate structure that brings the fund back into balance while easing the burden as much as possible.
The physical development and appearance of the City have taken several big steps forward this year, which will continue into the next. There is great excitement for the new H-E-B as announced and approved this year, along with other long overdue commercial redevelopments. Our city-wide Beautification initiative has continued to gain momentum, and we’ve finally got some consensus on near-term improvements while also working towards a long-term master plan vision. And, if you’ve driven by lately, you’ve seen that Evelyn’s Park is well on its way to a springtime grand opening!
We’ve continued to demonstrate our commitment to safety and security as a top priority, including through our recruitment and retention practices in the police and fire departments. With the adoption of this year’s budget, we’ve implemented significant public safety compensation enhancements and have brought base salaries to the 75th percentile among comparator communities. Of the approximate $1 million increase in the overall budget versus last year’s, roughly 73% of that goes to these public safety pay raises, which reflects the extent of our commitment.
In sum, 2016 has been a great year for Bellaire, as we’ve achieved quite a lot and laid the groundwork for even more good things to come. Importantly, we’ve done so with the benefit of your thoughtful public input on the issues that matter most to you. One of the primary goals I set for City Council at the start of this term is to better engage with our citizens and stakeholders, and that will of course remain a major emphasis. I invite and encourage you to get and stay involved in the new year.