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Houston City Council passes budget, moves forward on housing, courts and airport

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Houston's City Council meeting on January 18, was dominated by the $5 billion annual budget, (Item 79a), which was taken up after a midday lunch break. However, several other important items were heard in the morning, including the reappointment of Judge Barbara Hartel as Presiding Judge of the Houston Municipal Courts, and three other judges. The Council held 3 public hearings on subsidized housing projects, approved major renovations of Bush International Airport, and ratified the sale of $200 million in tax anticipation notes.

The re-appointment of Judge Barbara Hartle was a routine matter that won nearly unanimous approval as expected. However, Council Member Michael Kubosh raised a few objections that were answered by several other members with comments by Mayor Parker following the vote of 15-2, with Council Member Pennington joining Mr. Kubosh in voting “no.” (Item 5). Full time Justice Megan A. McClellan, and associate justices Berta Alicia Mejia and Roni M. Most were reappointed without debate. (Items 6 and 7)

The purpose of the public hearings was to provide for Resolution of No Objection for a 4% tax credit application as required by State law. The first applicant was CHRISTIAN CHURCH HOMES for renovation of Woodland Christian Tower located at 600 E. Tidwell Road. The structure was constructed in the 1970's and needs major renovations. KISSITO HEALTHCARE, INC for Kissito Healthcare Riverside located at 4320 Old Spanish Trail will be building a subsidized housing unit with an on-site clinic, which will allow residents to age in place. THE WOMEN’S HOME Phase 2 located at 2060 Jacquelyn Drive will provide for housing for low-income families. A number of residents in the same neighborhood now live in substandard units, so the new units are not expected to place an undue burden on the neighborhood.

The Council received the report of the Comptroller on the sale of $200 million in Tax Anticipation Bonds earlier that morning. The tax anticipation notes provide funds to maintain city operations between the end of the fiscal year (June 30) and the receipt of property taxes the following January. (Items 14 and 14a).

Another major non-budget ordinance was the unanimous approval of a Memorandum of Agreement with United Airlines to provide for a significant expansion of Terminal D at Bush International Airport. (Items 34 and 34a). The expanded terminal will be designed to accommodate wide body jets, which are becoming more prevalent in international travel. “Wide body aircraft are becoming more and more prevalent in the aviation industry, especially in regards to international air travel,” says Carl Newman, General Manager of George Bush Intercontinental Airport. “It’s imperative that IAH stands ready to accommodate these aircraft in the future and this terminal project helps us meet that crucial goal.”

The issue of expanded capabilities becomes even more critical when viewed through the lens of recent increases in international passenger totals and airline options. George Bush Intercontinental Airport has registered a record number of international passengers in each of the last four years, hitting the most current high mark in 2013 with a total of 8.9 million international passengers.

According to News 92FM, Mayor Parker was somewhat disappointed that the budget does little to address a looming financial crisis projected over the next 5 years as debt service and growing pension costs meet a cap on property taxes. See the proposed budget on the City of Houston web page.

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