September 22, 2022

The FY 2023 Budget:  A Collaborative Effort

The fiscal year 2023 budget, adopted unanimously by the City Council, is reflective of the broader economic environment marked by a high rate of inflation and an incredibly tight labor market.  Cities are not immune to these trends, and as costs are rising across the board, so too is the cost of providing municipal services.  This budget prioritizes maintaining service delivery and addressing our most pressing challenges, while holding the nominal tax rate flat, for now the fourth year in a row.

September 14, 2022

CRS Reclassification Process Slowed by FEMA

In my last update on our efforts to get back into the Community Rating System, I passed along to you exactly what FEMA officials had been telling the city staff and CRS consultant:  that we were well on track to achieve the full restoration of our prior classification of 7, effective October 1, 2022.  All along the way staff have consistently been assured they’ve done everything asked of them, by every deadline.  And so imagine their surprise upon being informed last month that FEMA would now be pushing our reclassification out to October 1, 2023.

September 2, 2022

World Trade Center Steel 9/11 Memorial

Appropriately located next to the Fire Station and directly across from Police, an important piece of history is now on display.  The 11-foot section of World Trade Center I-beam was donated to the City of Bellaire in 2017, and has since been in storage while we’ve been working on plans for a privately funded local memorial.  Last fall we were honored to loan the artifact to the Lone Star Flight Museum, where it served as the centerpiece of a special exhibit commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  Its return to Bellaire earlier this year was the impetus for a temporary installation plan, to keep it out of storage and accessible to the public, at no cost to the City and requiring only minimal funding from our community partners.

The functional design utilizes the same mounting that was fabricated for the museum exhibit, and also repurposes other materials the City already had on hand.  Piper Whitney Construction, which specializes in permeable paving solutions, graciously donated labor and supplies to build out the site, and Bellaire Public Works then completed the installation in-house.  The Bellaire/Southwest Houston Rotary Club, already a financial supporter of this project, is looking at underwriting signage to be added in the near future.

Our local 9/11 Memorial stakeholder group will continue working on the design and developing a fundraising strategy for a permanent exhibit, to be situated among the trees in the area between the Police Station and Great Lawn.  That location was identified as most conducive to creating a quiet, contemplative space, and as likely necessary to accommodate the more ambitious scale originally envisioned.  However, as the stakeholder group has been refining and scaling down the conceptual design, it remains to be seen whether what’s now the temporary location will end up being permanent.

In the meantime, most importantly this temporary installation gets the piece out of storage and on public display as intended.  It’s visible and approachable, and fitting in its proximity to our Police and Fire departments.  The City and stakeholder group will host a memorial ceremony and dedication this September 11 at 2:00 p.m.

August 25, 2022

Flood Mitigation Progress Five Years Out From Harvey

Five years after nearly 30% of our homes were flooded in Hurricane Harvey, residents displaced and lives upended, Bellaire is back and better than ever.  We’ve rebuilt our neighborhoods and our community, and have seen our property values rise as post-storm construction activity has only accelerated the ongoing trend of newer homes replacing the old.  Aggregate appraisals across the City have surpassed pre-Harvey levels.

But looking forward, are we any better protected from flooding now than we were then?  With the completion of the $480 million Project Brays we are, and over the past few years we’ve laid the foundation and positioned ourselves for more regional improvements to come, to further reduce our flood risk.  Starting, we have good reason to be optimistic, with the expansion of Cypress Ditch immediately to our south, the primary conveyance channel into which most of Bellaire directly drains.

July 12, 2022

Introducing City Manager Sharon L. Citino

Sharon L. Citino
Following a nationwide search that attracted candidates from far and wide, we ended up finding our next City Manager just a few blocks away.  A resident of Braeswood Place and a Bellaire High School parent, Sharon Citino is already very familiar with our community and jumped at the opportunity to serve in this role.  She’s got a wealth of municipal experience spanning more than 20 years, with a strong track record of leadership and team building, and has demonstrated the skills and temperament the City Council was looking for.

A self-proclaimed “committed public servant and local government geek,” Sharon started her municipal career as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Loveland, Colorado.  There, she worked with and gained exposure to pretty much all city departments and functions, and regularly advised the City Council and citizen boards and commissions.  As a Senior Assistant City Attorney for the City of Houston, she

Meet and Greet
Reception

August 1, 6:00 p.m.

developed particular legal expertise in all things water, and was involved in water and wastewater infrastructure projects, operations and maintenance.  That experience led to her most recent position as Houston Water Planning Director, in which she has grown further as an executive leader and manager.

June 14, 2022

Upping Our Game at the Bellaire Pound

An aging facility pushing the limits of its useful service life, our animal pound has been limping along for years.  We’ve all known it, but admittedly haven’t given it the attention it deserves, until recently.  It’s not that we haven’t cared about it; it’s just that it’s one among many needs competing for priority, such as a new library, public works building and Evergreen Park renovations, not to mention streets and drainage.  Improving or replacing the pound has long been somewhere in that mix but simply hadn’t made it to the top.  Significant public interest and input over the past year or so has certainly helped change that, and we’re pleased by all the progress we’ve made.

Support for the pound featured prominently in the development of this year’s budget, which includes increased funding for operational expenses and maintains replacement of the facility as an identified project in the Capital Improvement Plan.  At the City Council’s direction, staff are currently researching options and developing proposals for a new pound to be considered sooner than originally contemplated.  We could potentially be ready to move forward with something in the fairly near future.

Aside from the facility itself, the City has also made great strides in correcting acknowledged deficiencies and upgrading our pound operations overall.  Starting with our having brought on a full-time, dedicated Animal Control Officer able to devote her undivided attention and years of experience to the job.  In only her first few months with us she’s already made some meaningful changes and is really turning things around.

May 24, 2022

Library’s Outdoor Expansion Is a Hoot!

The outdoor expansion over at the Library is starting to take shape, most recently with the completion of an absolutely stunning tree trunk sculpture by artist Jim Phillips.  Sadly, this water oak was one of several trees that we lost as a result of the February 2021 deep freeze, in this case due to direct freeze damage and the onset of Hypoxylon canker disease.  Though the tree could not be saved, we’re thrilled its trunk has been transformed into a beautiful work of art to enhance this new greenspace amenity.  Symbolic of the virtues of wisdom and knowledge, three owls are perched atop a stack of books, welcoming and inspiring patrons to take advantage of and enjoy the many resources and programming the Library has to offer.

Local non-profit Patrons for Bellaire Parks initiated the outdoor expansion project last year in partnership with the City, and with input from our citizen Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.  Patrons provided the funding for it, supplemented by a contribution from the Friends of the Bellaire Library.  In the “back yard” behind the building is a new and improved interactive educational area for children, featuring a much-needed shade structure, sensory garden planters, creative play pieces and more.  The outdoor reading area on the lot next door, overseen by the owls, is more passive in nature and will include picnic tables, chess tables with sets available for checkout, benches and public Wi-Fi.

The project has been coming along in stages, starting with the addition of a pecan tree donated by Patrons and dedicated as part of Planting Palooza last April, followed by the installation of new fencing earlier this year.  This month things are really starting to pick up as components are delivered and put in place, and another replacement tree has been planted.  We’re not quite there yet but getting closer, and are so excited to introduce this wonderful outdoor community space.  Our sincere thanks once again to Patrons and the Friends, and all of their supporters, for making it happen.

May 6, 2022

Town Hall Meeting on Flood Risk Management - May 16, 6:00 p.m.


When you look at this image, what do you see:  an unacceptably flooded street, or a cost-effective use of the right-of-way to protect structures from flooding?  What measure of improvement are we trying to achieve, with what kinds of projects, over what timeframe, how prioritized, and how funded?  These are among the policy questions on which the City Council seeks your input in refining our approach to flood risk management.

Having last month initiated this latest round of discussions with an introductory presentation, followed by two workshop sessions, we’ll next host a town hall meeting on May 16.  Similar to a public hearing, the purpose of a town hall is two-fold:  to present information concerning matters of public interest, and to receive public comment on them.  Questions from the public may be referred to staff as appropriate.

Flooding is obviously an ongoing, long-term challenge, and we don’t intend the outcome of these current discussions to be the final word.  Rather, the objective is to provide clear and actionable direction to staff that will inform the continued development of a well-thought-out and comprehensive infrastructure improvement program.  While further study will be necessary in evaluating potential solutions and fleshing out our plans, we must also be prepared to act quickly on constructing high-yield, near-term projects that could be implemented in collaboration with regional partners, and to take advantage of outside funding opportunities as they arise.

Our goal is to reach consensus on the high-level policy questions soon, as budget season is now getting underway.  This will allow us to plan activities that represent real and tangible steps toward reducing flood risk for our residents, whether that means identifying specific projects for funding, or at least setting expectations for how staff time and resources should be spent over the coming year.  Public input is essential to the process, and we look forward to your participation.

April 28, 2022

What’s Up With All the Train Horns?

Suddenly and without warning, our Quiet Zone is no longer quiet.  This week the trains have been blowing their horns at all hours of the day and night, seriously disrupting the peace and tranquility of our adjacent residential neighborhoods.  When this first started the City immediately reached out to our governmental contacts at Union Pacific to find out what’s going on, for how long, and why we weren’t given advance notice.  It has been a frustrating few days as they’ve worked on tracking it down (no pun intended), but we’ve finally got an answer.

Turns out there’s an “urgent vegetation concern” at a nearby crossing, which triggered a Form C track bulletin prompting the use of the horns.  Such conditions deemed unsafe override the Quiet Zone designation.  We are assured Union Pacific is now working with the City of Houston to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

Having lived right by the tracks myself, both before and after the Quiet Zone went into effect, I can personally attest what a big deal this is.  It’s more than just quality of life; this is about the health and welfare of our residents.  We’ll continue to stay on top of the situation and appreciate your patience as our Quiet Zone is restored.

April 5, 2022

Council Initiates Renewed Focus on Flood Mitigation Planning

Flooding has been a top priority for many years, and we’ve been steadily working toward impactful solutions within our local, regulatory and regional policy framework.  As it’s relatively early in this new term, the City Council has returned its attention to the subject to refine our objectives and priorities for flood risk management, both to inform future decision making and to give clear direction to staff for implementation.  The timing of this discussion coincides nicely with the completion of the Bellaire Master Drainage Concept Plan, which is an important but not the sole component of our mitigation efforts, as well as near-term partnership and funding opportunities we definitely don’t want to miss out on.

We kicked things off last night with a very informative presentation, which I’ll go so far as to say should be required viewing for anyone with a serious interest in understanding our multifaceted flooding challenges.  It serves as a primer of sorts, setting the stage for further deliberation in the development of a comprehensive, goal-oriented infrastructure program.  After starting with Floodplain Management 101, the presentation provides a summary of ongoing major projects to date, an overview of flood risk management principles, proposed next steps and an organized action plan for implementation.

Council will continue the discussion with a workshop in our next Regular Session on April 18, with possibly more workshops to follow, and we envision a town hall meeting in the not-too-distant future for public participation and input.

March 28, 2022

Bellaire Place Planned Developments Approved

The road to Bellaire Place, at the site of the former Chevron campus, has been a long and often arduous one.  Which is as it should be; for the project to be a success it must be mutually beneficial for both the developer and the community.  Throughout the process, going back more than five years now, at each step we slowed things down and took our time to get it right.  The end result, heavily influenced by public input and modified to address legitimate concerns, will be a wonderful addition to our commercial sector with certain constraints imposed to protect the surrounding residential interests.  It’s a positive outcome we can all get behind as we anticipate the exciting progress it will bring.


March 4, 2022

Bellaire Stands With Ukraine

Next time you drive by, be sure to take a look at the flagpole outside Bellaire City Hall.  Today we’ve joined a growing number of cities around the world that are either flying the Ukrainian flag, or have lit their municipal buildings in blue and yellow as a show of solidarity.  Not just with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, but with free peoples and defenders of liberty everywhere who support the rule of law and international order.

We proudly stand with the Ukrainian people in their time of need.  We admire their bravery, courage and strength in the face of extreme adversity and against overwhelming odds.  We pray for an end to the bloodshed and suffering, for the restoration of peace, and for the successful defense of a sovereign nation against an unprovoked and unlawful invasion.  Godspeed to the Ukrainian military, her civilian leadership, and to all the ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things.

Sincere thanks to our friends at Kronberg's Flags and Flagpoles for generously donating the flag, and to those Bellaire residents who came together and made it possible.  We appreciate all of you who have reached out over the past week with your ideas and offers of help, and have inspired this meaningful gesture.  Anyone looking for other ways to support Ukraine, please check out this list compiled by The Bellaire Buzz.

February 10, 2022

A Roadmap for Our Next City Manager

We’ve made hiring Bellaire’s next City Manager a top priority early in this new Council term, and through our first month in office we’re well on our way.  We’ve selected an executive search firm to assist us in identifying and recruiting qualified candidates, and we’ll soon be kicking things off with them.  But looking beyond the hiring process, we also have some other work to do if we are to give our next City Manager—and ourselves—the best chance at success.

For him or her to be able to hit the ground running, we'll need to have established where we’re going.  Council sets the overall vision and policy direction, which the City Manager and staff are then charged with implementing.  We’ve taken an important first step, starting this term with a professionally facilitated planning session in which we worked on refining our governance model, and on developing our priorities, strategies and goals as a Council.

Continuing that emphasis, and with the caveat they’re still in draft form and haven’t yet been formally adopted, I organized this year’s State of the City Address around the Strategic Focus Areas we’ve come up with:  Community, Governance, Infrastructure, Public Safety, Quality of Life, and Land Use and Zoning.

In my address I talked about the unusually high number of staff vacancies we're currently experiencing, and what we’re doing to get those positions filled.  And I shared with you some of the highlights of the past year within each of our Strategic Focus Areas.  These are our guiding principles for the organization moving forward, and will help ensure the staff are aligned with Council’s policy direction when our next City Manager arrives.

February 3, 2022

Weathering Winter

The arctic blast is here.  Though we certainly don't expect this to be a repeat of last February’s severe winter storm and resulting statewide electrical grid failure and local water system issues, lessons learned from that event have informed our preparedness for this one.  Public Works has this week provided a high-level overview of our winterization improvements made over the past year.

To better protect our water and wastewater systems against prolonged freezing temperatures, we’ve implemented such safeguards as heat tape, cables and industrial blankets for outdoor equipment, with generators at the ready should we lose power.  We’ve brought in propane heaters for indoor mechanical controls and SCADA devices.  Throughout the City we’ve been replacing aging valves and pumps that are prone to failure in freezing conditions.  All of these improvements have been tested in anticipation of the incoming weather and are functioning properly.  We’ve additionally been in touch with the City of Houston, from which we source half our water supply due to regional subsidence regulations, and they assure us they’re also far more prepared now than they were a year ago.

The Bellaire Emergency Operations Center is activated at Level III—Increased Readiness.  Crews have been out making preparations for potential impacts and are on standby to respond as needed over the coming days.  As of now we anticipate all city offices and facilities will remain open as normal, but there could be some service delays, such as for solid waste and recycling collection, as conditions deteriorate.  Be sure you’re signed up to receive our emergency communications and updates through PrepareBellaire and Notify Me.

In preparing your own property, remember the 4 P’s:  People, Pets, Pipes and Plants.  Register with the City’s AquaHawk utility portal if you’ve not done so already, to receive automated notifications of water leaks in case of any pipe damage.  The roads may become slick overnight with sleet and ice, so please be safe and don’t take any chances.  For non-emergency assistance the Bellaire EOC can be reached at (713) 668-0487; for life-threatening emergencies call 911.

January 18, 2022

Introducing Our New Mobile App

Come across a pothole to report?  See something that’s broken or doesn’t look quite right?  Snap a pic and send it in!  The City of Bellaire’s new mobile app, powered by SeeClickFix, makes it easy to submit non-emergency service requests for these types of issues and many more.

All you need to do is open the app and follow the prompts.  Specify the location on the map, or, if you’re still there let the app find you.  Select the issue by category, type a brief description, and submit.  If you’ve entered your e-mail address the system will automatically send you status updates as city staff work to resolve your concerns.

SeeClickFix-Bellaire replaces our old, sometimes clunky Resident Request Center, providing an improved, intuitive user interface and the convenience of submitting requests directly from your smartphone.  It can also be accessed online at bellairetx.gov/seeclickfixbellaire.  For staff on the receiving end, request tracking and workflows are more automated and efficient.

The app also includes some links to helpful information on the City website, like the holiday trash and recycling schedule.  The SeeClickFix platform supports other functions as well, and over time we’ll look to upgrade the app with additional features.  It’s still somewhat of a work in progress, and your feedback in that regard is welcome.

Download SeeClickFix for free on the App Store or Google Play.

     

January 12, 2022

Expanding Our ALPR Network

Flock Safety
Bellaire’s first ten automated license plate readers (ALPRs) were installed as a pilot project in January 2021.  Deployed at strategic locations along our major thoroughfares, special cameras capture license plate data and send out an alert to the police department whenever they record a hit on a “hot list” vehicle.  The program has been such a success in its initial year that (1) those original ten ALPRs are now being funded in the police department budget on an ongoing basis, and (2) we’re acquiring ten more units as a Phase 2 pilot project, supported once again by a grant from the Bellaire Police and Fire Foundation.

The system has proven its value as a law enforcement tool in Bellaire.  Over the course of this first year we got 996 hits on wanted vehicles, of which the police apprehended 452; these stops resulted in the recovery of 66 stolen vehicles.  Not included in those statistics, of course, are the crimes potentially prevented by those stops, and by the deterrent effect of the cameras generally.

The ALPRs have also been useful in tracking down vehicles wanted in connection with crimes that have been reported in Bellaire.  When witnesses provide only generic descriptions, such as “a late model white sedan,” for example, officers can use that information in searching the database for any matching vehicles that were picked up by one of the ALPRs around the time of the offense.  The department credits the cameras with helping increase case closure rates, and improving efficiency by automating what is otherwise a tedious, manual process of pursuing such leads in an investigation.

At an annual cost of $27,500, budgeting for the continuation of the first ten ALPRs beyond the Phase 1 trial period was a no-brainer.  For the next ten, the plan is to install seven of them at strategic locations not already covered, and the remaining three will be mobile for use in investigations and for traffic counts as part of the City’s traffic management program.  As before, we’re under no obligation with respect to the second set of ALPRs after the Phase 2 pilot, and will simply wait and see how things go before making that decision.

January 3, 2022

A Consensus Vision for Organizational Alignment

I’ve always looked forward to the beginning of a new Council term as an opportunity for a fresh start.  To candidly assess what we’ve been doing well and what we could be doing better.  For me the biggest takeaway from the last term is that we as a Council never quite managed to coalesce around a consensus vision and policy direction.

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