December 30, 2019

2020 in Focus as New Council Set to Begin

Following another busy and productive year, Bellaire is in good shape as the incoming Council prepares to take office next week.  We’ll be getting right to work, as there’s a lot going on all over the City with no signs of slowing any time soon.  The election of new Council members suggests a change in direction as we look to build upon our past accomplishments while perhaps reenvisioning our future.  With all that’s on our plate we’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so, most notably with the Comprehensive Plan due for periodic review in the coming year.

December 16, 2019

Persistence Pays Off:  Bellaire Awarded $4.35 Million in CDBG Disaster Recovery Grants

Over the past few years, city staff have been hard at work applying for every disaster recovery and mitigation grant for which we’re eligible to apply.  Though historically we’ve not had much luck based on our relative income demographics, we’ve pressed ahead in pursuit of our fair share.  Our persistence is paying off.

December 9, 2019

Police Department Secures Grant for Full-Time Crime Victim Specialist

Having identified victim assistance as an area for improvement, the Bellaire Police Department jumped at the opportunity and successfully applied for federal funding to enhance its capabilities.  Bellaire is one of just 36 communities nationwide selected to participate in the 2019 Law Enforcement-Based Victim Specialist Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice through its Office for Victims of Crime.  The $214,636 grant will fully fund a Crime Victim Specialist position for three years.

November 22, 2019

Ambitious Regional Flood Planning Finally Underway

Having previously pitched the idea, worked out all the details, secured partner participation and funding commitments, and entered into interlocal agreements to seal the deal, the final step of awarding the engineering contract so work could begin felt somewhat anticlimactic.  It has taken us the better part of a year to get to this point, quite a bit longer than we’d hoped based on our partners’ initial expectations, but we got it done and the Bellaire Master Drainage Concept Plan is off and running.  This partnership among the City, Harris County Flood Control District and TxDOT is absolutely essential to Bellaire and the surrounding area if we are to achieve meaningful flood relief, especially in more extreme storm events that no amount of local improvements could contain.  Regional problems require regional solutions, and this could be the start of something big.

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 exemptions.
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 for 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.

February 25, 2019

Norman-Zarate Police & Municipal Court Building

The dedication ceremony for our new Police and Municipal Court building was as much a celebration of our fallen heroes as of the building itself, now named after them.  It was the perfect opportunity to honor and remember Sergeant Jimmie DeVeril Norman (End of Watch 12/24/12) and Officer Marco Antonio Zarate (7/12/16), and to reflect on their selfless service and sacrifice, and that of all officers, in the protection and defense of others.  Making the moment all the more meaningful was having their families there, accompanied by the Bellaire Police Department Honor Guard, to unveil the signage and reveal the special tribute.

February 19, 2019

Drainage Project Paves Way for Comp Plan Downtown

That Bellaire is a city in transition is not exactly breaking news.  It’s been happening for decades.  Just take a look out your own front window (any residential street will do) to witness the ongoing turnover of our housing stock.  Our traditional residential character hasn’t changed, nor who we are as a community, but the substantial extent of new investment has brought about an obvious transformation.

While that’s been happening on the residential side, we’ve not seen as much of it in our commercial areas.  For years residents have been telling us they’d like to see downtown Bellaire revitalized, in keeping up with other premier neighborhoods throughout the Houston area.  That we should attract new, upscale development commensurate with our own residential investment, with restaurants, conveniences and shopping opportunities that contribute to our quality of life and allow us to spend more of our money here in Bellaire.  We also recognize a revitalized downtown will help in closing the wide gap between residential and commercial appraised values that’s reflected in the property taxes we pay.

Our Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2009 and updated in 2015, thus places primary emphasis on our commercial areas in laying out a consensus vision for the future redevelopment of the City.  We’ve seen the Plan starting to take hold in recent years with several exciting new projects, which further validate that vision and our efforts to implement it.  Good things are happening!  The Spruce & Fifth Reconstruction Project, approved by the City Council last night, gives the Comprehensive Plan another big boost.

February 13, 2019

Sidewalks Charter Election Will Have to Wait

The City Clerk, having diligently completed her review and verification of signatures, has now certified resident petitions for three charter amendments to be submitted to the voters concerning sidewalks.  That means the City Council will formally accept the petitions and call a special election at the next available opportunity.  Under Texas law, that won’t be until May of next year.

February 7, 2019

Bellaire Master Drainage Concept Plan

It’s perhaps the most exciting flood control development for Bellaire in the nearly year and a half since Harvey, and it’s actually something we’ve been working toward since before Harvey.  It picks up where our last drainage study left off, transitioning from our local drainage system to the surrounding regional issues that affect it.  What makes it so exciting is the enthusiastic response and participation of our regional partners.

The Bellaire Master Drainage Concept Plan is the next step in the evolution of our approach to solving our flooding problem.  We first began improving our local drainage infrastructure around the year 2000, with the Bellaire Millennium Renewal bond program, followed by Rebuild Bellaire from 2005 through 2016.  Based on what we’d learned in those programs, and with the benefit of new data and our experiences in major storms along the way, we set out to further study and refine our thinking about the problem and possible solutions.

January 24, 2019

Community Building at Ware Family Park

Parks play a vital role in community building, and with tax-supported resources being redirected to drainage, the community is coming together to build parks.

The City of Bellaire and non-profit Patrons for Bellaire Parks are excited to welcome you to the new and improved Ware Family Park, the first of our pocket parks to be upgraded under the Parks Master Plan.  The new playground equipment, designed for preschoolers ages 2-5 and for older kids 5-12, encourages exploration, imagination and sensory development and strengthening.  It also introduces special play features that are more inclusive of children with different physical, social, cognitive and sensory abilities.