October 17, 2019

Bellaire is StormReady

Our emergency management personnel are great at what they do, and they’re always working to get even better, including by implementing new ideas and best practices.  Bellaire has recently been recognized by the National Weather Service (NWS) as a StormReady community, based on the strength and effectiveness of our severe weather response plans, communications and emergency operations.  An added benefit of achieving this designation is credit toward our Community Rating System classification, which lowers flood insurance premiums for property owners.

September 20, 2019

The FY 2020 Budget, and How We Got There

The outcome of this year’s budget process is an adopted budget that represents a 4.4% property tax revenue increase, down from the original 8% proposal.  The resulting tax rate increase for maintenance and operations, calculated in accordance with the state Truth-in-Taxation (TnT) formula, is 2.4%, well within the new 3.5% rollback rate that will go into effect next year.  The impact on a home at the average value in Bellaire of $936,582 will be $93 versus last year:

1    The City Manager revised his proposed budget upon receipt of the certified tax roll, to credit better-than-projected growth from new construction, and also to correct an error in Fire Department part-time pay and in response to Council feedback to eliminate a budget enhancement for closed captioning.
2    The proposed budget was further revised, primarily as a result of continued negotiations with our employee health insurance carrier, along with some other, minor modifications.
3    Impacts for these given appraised values are calculated assuming the homestead exemption, but not senior/disabled exemption.
4    The $145 I previously reported was based on an average appraised value of $937,657, which decreased slightly to $936,582 upon receipt of the certified tax roll.

September 12, 2019

Celebrating Our New Municipal Facilities

In what has been much more a marathon than a sprint, we’ve finally reached the finish line and are ready to cut the ribbon.  We’ve marked some important milestones along the way, from the initial groundbreaking ceremony, to the opening of the new City Hall and Council Chamber, and the formal dedication of the Norman-Zarate Police & Municipal Court building.  Now that the final piece is in place with the completion of the Civic Center, it’s time to celebrate!

August 28, 2019

Cautious Optimism for a Lower Tax Rate

A bit of good news as we continue developing next year’s budget, we’ve now received our certified tax roll with better-than-projected growth from new construction.  That, along with some other adjustments, modestly brings down the City Manager’s proposal from an 8% to a 7.1% property tax revenue increase.  But it doesn’t alter his fundamental recommendation that we plan conservatively for the several years to follow, by building a healthy reserve now.  The question remains, just how conservative about that do we want to be?  That’s ultimately for the City Council to decide, and we’re looking at whether we can justify relaxing some of the assumptions in our forecast, to reduce the amount of reserve we think we’ll need and therefore lower the tax rate further.

August 5, 2019

Common Misconceptions About the Proposed Budget and Tax Rate

The initial presentation of the proposed budget last month has prompted some community interest and concern about our tax rate.  Good.  It’s an important subject that ought to concern all of us.  Of course nobody’s ever happy about the prospect of a tax increase—your City Council included; we’re taxpayers, too—and we’ve got some difficult choices to make if we want to avoid or at least minimize one.

While it’s the City Council that’s ultimately charged with making the tough decisions, we look to you, our fellow taxpayers, for your input in adopting a budget and tax rate that’s representative of our community’s needs and desires.  So we’re looking forward to next Monday’s public hearing on the proposed budget, and appreciate the input you’ve provided thus far.  In my recent conversations and e-mails with several of you, I’ve addressed some common misconceptions about the proposed budget and tax rate that I’d now like to share with the broader audience and for the benefit of our ongoing community discussion.

July 18, 2019

Budgeting for FY 2020, and Beyond

The development of city budgets is most obviously about funding—one fiscal year at a time—the level of services our residents expect.  As taxpayers we know these things cost money, and the budget is a reflection of what we want and what we’re willing to pay for.  But it’s also at least as much about planning for the future, even beyond the next fiscal year, to ensure our continued financial stability and protect our AAA bond rating.  The City Manager’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is no exception.

June 5, 2019

From Local to Regional, Drainage Partnership Moving Forward

Our Master Drainage Concept Plan is now a step closer to getting underway, after the Harris County Commissioners Court voted yesterday to authorize the Flood Control District to engage in formal negotiations with us on an interlocal agreement.  This is a hugely significant development for Bellaire as we seek to mitigate the regional contributors to our flooding problem that we would never be able to tackle on our own, and are also what have the greatest impact on us in more extreme rainfall events.

In addressing the Court in support of the project I emphasized the distinction between the local and the regional, and that we need outside help in dealing with outside storm water:

May 13, 2019

Keeping the Progress Going Without a 2019 Bond Election

The 2019 bond election we’ve been contemplating, given that our current Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 program was from the outset expected to last three years, will no longer be necessary.  We’ve determined that we’ll be able to maintain the same pace of infrastructure work for at least another year with existing bond authority, for two reasons.  First, in response to significant public input last fall we canceled standalone sidewalks, freeing up the associated bond funding for street and drainage projects instead.  Second, the earlier phases of BBB16 have come in quite a bit below cost estimates, leaving us with some remaining funds which, when combined with the unused sidewalk money, will be enough for the next round of street and drainage improvements.

April 18, 2019

No Stone Unturned:  The Latest on Our Pending Grant Applications

As city staff continue to diligently pursue our fair share of grant funding opportunities, we’ve got a number of applications pending for several different programs, each with their own requirements and selection criteria.  Most are disaster-related, but a couple are for traffic improvement projects we’ve identified as good candidates for regional transportation grants.  It’s a long and time-consuming process, and even if we do everything right there are no guarantees.  Still, we’re making steady progress, have had some success already, and are cautiously optimistic that at least a few more of our applications will ultimately be approved.

March 26, 2019

Flood Repair Regulations Refined and Codified

On the regulatory side of our flood mitigation policy, an area of improvement we identified soon after Hurricane Harvey was to formalize by ordinance our flood repair permit process, including how we apply the 50% Rule in making substantial damage determinations.  In assisting affected homeowners post-Harvey, the Permit Office followed established procedures based on past practice and developed new ones as appropriate to the situation, such as by limiting the cumulative effect to past flood repair costs only.  However, not all of that was actually spelled out in the Code.  Since that time we’ve been working on updating these policies based on our experience in Harvey, and in fulfillment of one of the adopted goals of our citizen Flood Hazard Mitigation Task Force the City Council has now formally codified them.