December 30, 2020

Serving You Differently This Most Unusual Year

We’ve had our share of challenges, typically in the form of hurricanes and other severe weather events, but the pandemic is quite unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before.  Still, we’re approaching this new challenge just the same, as a community, and together we’re getting through it.  What has defined 2020 hasn’t defined us.

The entire city organization really stepped up this year, finding different and creative ways to maintain the services we sometimes take for granted, but on which we’ve come to rely even more.  As neighbors we’ve been doing our part to help control the spread of the virus, while supporting one another, including our local businesses, in ways big and small.  These are very trying times indeed, but Bellaire is going to be just fine.

In fact, we’ve been comparatively fortunate thus far, for which we’re grateful of course but not without compassion and concern for those in our surrounding area and beyond who haven’t fared as well.  According to the latest numbers we’ve had 436 positive cases overall in Bellaire, of which 80 remain active today, and (knock on wood) no deaths.  Harris County has recorded 233,330 cases and 2,617 deaths.  Regardless of the statistics our community has most assuredly been impacted, and we extend our deepest sympathies to all who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or otherwise been personally affected by it.

Among city employees we’ve had 29 positive cases, 5 currently active.  Unlike many of our residents who have been able to work from home, for the majority of the city workforce—public safety and public works being two-thirds—that’s simply not an option.  Not only must these services be performed in person, they’re often public-facing roles.  A single exposure can result in a whole shift having to quarantine.  Through careful planning, diligent precautions and thoughtful decision making, we’ve been able to manage sometimes rapidly changing conditions and avoid any gaps in essential services.

Financially, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on cities all across the country, as revenues are down while demand for services is up.  Once again we’re comparatively fortunate in that our finances have generally remained fairly stable.  To be sure, within individual categories our actual numbers relative to budget have been all over the place, but steep declines in some areas have been offset by gains, or at least reduced expenditures, in others.  Our disproportionate reliance on property taxes given our overwhelmingly residential character, a clear trade-off and source of friction each budget cycle, instead works to our advantage in this situation, as a reliable source of revenue.

That stability has positioned us well to continue serving the community, and our dedicated staff have taken particular pride in being there for you throughout this difficult year.  Though it’s far from business as usual, we haven’t skipped a beat.  Police, Fire and Public Works have carried on uninterrupted, as other departments have adapted to meet changing needs brought about by the pandemic.

Parks and Recreation, for example, has responded to unprecedented usage of our already-popular outdoor amenities, the importance of which to our physical and mental health and well-being is obvious as we’ve all been cooped up so long.  Our city tennis courts alone saw a more than fivefold increase in reservations over the summer months compared to the same period last year.  Playgrounds, pools and the Rec Center have also seen steady utilization since reopening according to public health guidelines.

The Library has likewise been a center of activity, even as the building itself remains closed.  Our librarians have enthusiastically embraced alternative means of serving the community and keeping people entertained, educated and engaged with the world.  They’ve added to their online programming and expanded curbside offerings, including not only book pickups but also arts-and-crafts kits for families looking for something to do around the house.  With the fall change in weather they introduced outdoor Pop-Up Libraries, with a selection of books for browsing just like patrons would otherwise enjoy inside.

It was a record-setting hurricane season (2020, why not?), and our Emergency Operations Center was activated in response to several severe weather threats.  We got lucky and dodged the worst of it, but rest assured we were ready for every one of the storms that might have come our way.  Even though our normal hurricane preparations were altered and the EOC looked quite a bit different with COVID-19 protocols in place, our emergency management team once again got the job done according to plan.

Those are but a few examples, representative of the City’s efforts across all departments to keep Bellaire moving forward through the unique challenges of 2020, by continuing to provide the level and quality of services we depend on.  As this tumultuous year at long last draws to a close, let us not overlook the substantial contributions of our municipal workers, seen and unseen, who are among the many reasons we’re privileged to call Bellaire home.  Perhaps now more than ever.