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Council passes Capital Improvement plan after lengthy debate

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On Wednesday July 11, Houston City Council's debate on the Capital Improvement Plan was similar to the prior week's lengthy budget debate. The Capital Improvement Plan deals specifically with infrastructure, repairs, drainage, and similar costs. Several sources of revenue, including the drainage fee, are earmarked for the capital improvement budget in the program now known as Rebuild Houston.

One of the major changes was the “Bradford Amendment.” Council Member Brad Bradford proposed a method empowering district council members to designate $450,000 from the general fund and $450,000 from the Capital Improvement budget to prioritize projects within their districts. While the Mayor and Council Member Stephen Costello expressed doubts about the plan and its perception, Council Member Boykins described it as “the best thing since sliced bread.

Counsellors proposed about 20 written amendments altogether, but some overlapped others, so they were debated in an order that allowed for members to withdraw their proposals as the debate evolved. Nevertheless, discussion continued well into the afternoon. The final result is available with the minutes of the meeting and the full CIP is available on the City of Houston website.

Generally, the themes that drove much of the debate included assuring that projects could proceed as efficiently as possible, and that the public remained assured that Rebuild Houston projects are meeting the vast needs for correcting infrastructure problems citywide. Although there are severe budget concerns projected for the general fund beginning in 2017, the CIP funds are likely to grow because of the way they are allocated. With more than 1000 people moving to Houston on average every day and substantial new construction, the total impervious surface will increase, so drainage funds will continue to grow, assuring a source of funds. For that reason, lower reserve balances than would be used for bond-funded or general fund projects are reasonable. Following this rationale, the Council passed an amendment proposed by Council members Davis and Costello, which freed up about $31 million in reserves.

In other matters, the Council heard the monthly financial reports from the Comptroller and Finance Director as of May 31, 2014 both indicating that the city's finances are robust as expected, with no major changes expected for the final fiscal year end report as of June 30 2014.

The Council also appointed members of the Houston Municipal Employees Pension Board, the Rebuild Houston Advisory Board, the Automotive Board, the Houston Clean City Commission, the Electrical Board, the Board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and Miller Theater Advisory Board. The Mayor proposed nominating Council Member Robert Gallegos as the non-voting advisory member on the Board of Directors of Houston First Corporation. However, the council expressed a desire to have 2 ex-officio Council members and to review the issue to plan a revision with amendments to the Houston First Board charter are anticipated.

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