December 28, 2018

The Stage Is Set for a Great 2019

In 2018 we continued our recovery from Hurricane Harvey and made significant strides in flood mitigation planning.  We worked through some challenging issues, and in the process found opportunities to further refine our priorities as a community.  Much of what we accomplished was in laying the groundwork for an exciting year to come, and we enter 2019 very well positioned for even more growth and progress.

We’ve welcomed back many of our neighbors who had been displaced, and greeted new ones as they’ve arrived.  New home construction remains steady all over town and the residential real estate market is improving as surplus inventory begins to clear.  Our strong recovery will continue in the coming year and our local outlook is decidedly positive.

Good things are happening in our commercial and public areas as well.  Several new businesses including restaurants have come into Bellaire, and some notable redevelopments have either been completed or are now underway.  The North Bellaire Special Development Area, rife with opportunity, has changed hands and received its first permits, for the office building portion of the site.  There’s been lots of construction activity at Bellaire High School, long overdue after years of planning challenges.  The first phase of our Municipal Facilities project is nearly finished, with City Hall having opened last month and Police and Courts scheduled to open next month.  Also pursuant to our 2016 bond program, there are a number of water and wastewater line replacements and street and drainage reconstruction projects going on throughout the City, and important renovations at the wastewater treatment plant are nearing completion.

Still, we spent much of 2018 planning for the future.  We had lots of help through direct citizen engagement, for which we thank you.  Responsive to your input, we permanently shelved the Community Pathways proposal, and standalone sidewalks are now off the table as well.  Both such instances, among others, have shown that the City Council listens to and values your feedback, and that your participation in the public process matters.

We’ve further fostered and enhanced our community engagement through another very successful session of the Bellaire Citizens Academy.  Our ongoing communication efforts include our now-monthly Boulevard Newsletter, the topic-specific Notify Me listserv and the PrepareBellaire mass notification system we rolled out this year.  Improved technology in the new City Hall makes it easier than ever to access meetings of the City Council and statutory boards and commissions, and we’re now available on U-verse (channel 99) in addition to Comcast (16).

Sensitive to the financial impacts of Harvey, we adopted a budget that didn’t increase the tax burden on existing properties (i.e., maintained the effective tax rate), and put off the water and sewer rate increases that were to have phased in.  We retained our AAA bond rating, which is a function of our healthy appraised values—even after the storm—and prudent financial management practices.  And for the second consecutive year, we again received the prestigious Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association; earned by only 4% of cities nationwide, it’s a significant professional achievement and well-deserved recognition for our Finance Department.

The city organization as a whole is in great shape.  We continue to attract and retain top talent and have recently filled several key positions that were vacated by retirements, while creating efficiencies by restructuring some others without increasing our total headcount.  Among these promotions and new hires are our Fire Chief, Assistant City Manager, Assistant Director of Public Works and incoming Assistant Police Chief.  We now employ in Public Works two licensed professional engineers.  Our investments in our workforce and commitment to being a premier employer directly benefit the quality and responsiveness of city services our residents enjoy.

Most important of all, we begin the new year poised for real progress in flood mitigation.  Supported by our citizen Task Force, we’ve been working with our regional partners toward the development of a Master Drainage Concept Plan to tackle the biggest problems that contribute to flooding in and around Bellaire.  We expect we’ll soon finalize a major interlocal agreement with Harris County Flood Control and TxDOT, and look forward to presenting the details at a town hall meeting on February 4 in conjunction with our annual State of the City.  Local drainage system improvements are ongoing as well, and our intention is to accelerate the pace of that work in our next infrastructure bond program.

As we ring in the new year we’re grateful as ever, and we thank you for the privilege of serving our wonderful community.  Bellaire wouldn’t be the special place it is without each and every one of you, and we’re proud to be your neighbors.  We appreciate your continued engagement as we seek to build upon our efforts of this past year, and we look forward to a great 2019.