The City Council will meet Wednesday to answer a tough question: Which of the $41.6 million in new projects placed on the table will make it into the 2016 fiscal year budget set for approval on Thursday?
It's a tough question because there are 27 individual proposals that were put forth by Mayor Ivy Taylor and the 10 council members, and a Tuesday budget session succeeded in reducing that number down only to $11 million. That's a a big reduction, but the balance is still more than double the $5.6 million that City Sheryl Sculley said is available in the City's Capital Fund. Click here to download the full list of proposed projects.
The new budget goes into effect on Oct. 1.
The council still must review potential budget amendments to the city's restricted funds and the General Fund, which will be affected if, as expected, the City and the police union do not reach some last-minute agreement on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement. Talks ended last week with union representatives breaking off talks and two sides $20 million away from a mutually acceptable deal.
If a new deal isn't reached by Thursday's vote, the current contract's evergreen clause will continue the health care deal that requires zero premiums paid by uniformed employees or their dependents. The cost of health care per employee to the City will increase to an estimated $19,000, said Budget Director Maria Villagomez. The City's most recent offer reigns in this expense to $13,500 by proposing that dependents begin to pay modest premiums.
There are another 27 line items from across the city that City Council have proposed to use General Fund dollars for totaling almost $4.3 million. None of these will be funded – or even discussed – if a deal isn't reached. The City will need all the money it can get from the General Fund to compensate for increased health care costs.
"We'll have to talk to the Council about alternatives for how to (fund the legacy contract)," Villagomez said. These alternatives could potentially be presented to Council on Thursday, but may come after a special vote to maintain a balanced budget after Oct. 1. The fire union has yet to accept any invitations to start negotiations with the City.
Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5), who represents the Westside where infrastructure needs are many, acknowledged Tuesday that council can't satisfy every need. She requested $22.3 million in capital projects for her district. Among those, she said the most pressing was the need for one mile of street and pedestrian improvements on the Commerce Street Bridge, a project which carries a $4.8 million price tag in FY 2016 and $5.2 million in FY 2017.
The funds, if approved, would support design and construction of upgrades that would be identified through a master planning process. Gonzales said the Commerce Street Bridge, more than an infrastructure project, serves as the gateway from downtown into the Westside.
"Many entities invest thousands of dollars, really millions, to improve things like walkability and lighting," she said. "Let's make this the gateway that it should be."
Gonzales also stressed the need for sidewalk improvements.
"Essentially infrastructure and gateway projects could set (our community) apart," she added.
Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) requested one budget amendment, but it's one that has gotten much press and community support lately.
He asked for $500,000 to help stabilize the former Lerma's Nite Club building on North Zarzamora Street. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center owns the former Westside dance hall and has asked the City to contribute $1 million to its restoration and redevelopment as a cultural center. Lerma's was shut down for code violations in 2010, the same year the City's Historic and Design Review Commission recommended it be designated a historic landmark.
Treviño, an architect, said the abandoned masonry structure is in poor shape, but a new roof is the top priority.
"The roof is decaying and that will rapidly accelerate if we don't do anything about it," he added. "This money helps to make sure the roof doesn't decay any more to a point where it can't be repaired."
Several council members backed the notion of saving Lerma's.
"There's an incredible passion for the Westside," said Councilmember Ray Lopez (D6).
"There's a desire, a need, to invest to save a bit of our history and legacy, to invest in our cultural heritage," added Councilmember Ray Saldaña (D4).
Treviño also is seeking $90,000 for a prototype public bathroom. A public bathroom could be freestanding or be placed next to an existing public bathroom facility, he said, allowing people to have 24 hour access to a downtown facility, where homeless people and others lack access to restrooms unless they are hotel, restaurant or store patrons.
"We know this is a major issue downtown, and an issue all of our districts," he added.
Tuesday's project list includes a $1 million request to fund design work on Broadway that would create a multimodal "complete street" from Houston Street downtown north to Casa Blanca Street, just short of the Pearl. Actual improvements would be included in the City's 2017 bond program.
There is growing movement among property owners and developers along Broadway in River North to push for a redesigned Broadway Street to reduce vehicle traffic and speed limits, widen sidewalks, add more shade trees, and address the conflict between street parking and protected bike lanes. The street is not wide enough to accommodate both, even with traffic reduced to two lanes both north and south.
There also are advocates for pushing CPS Energy to bury the utilities on Broadway to open more space and help beautify one of the city's signature surface streets. CPS Energy did bury the utilities in front of the Do-Seum on Broadway, but that project was underwritten by a $20 million gift to the children's museum from H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt.
Individual council members put forward their best arguments Tuesday for individual projects for their district, including:
- Improvements to the entrance at Martin Luther King Park ($1.6 million, D2)
- Gateway signage between the historic Missions and Stinson Airport ($500,000, D3)
- Architectural and construction funds for the Indian Creek neighborhood's CentroMed clinic ($450,000, D4)
- Traffic management control plan on Hillcrest Drive between Bandera and Babcock roads ($250,000, D7)
- Repaving Nacogoches Road from Starcrest to Iota Drive $423.654, D10)
- Extending Hardy Oak Road ($1 million, D9)
Click here to download the full list.
Mayor Taylor cited her single request, $500,000 to revamp a historic structure for the Good Samaritan Veterans Outreach and Transition Center. The facility would help veterans transition from the active military duty into civilian careers via programs offered at Alamo Colleges
Lopez made no requests for FY 2016, but said $2 million will be needed as early as fiscal year 2017 to help acquire, clean up and renovate a gas station property at Tezel Road and Timber Rail.
Di Galvan, a spokesperson for the City, said the pared down list of priority capital projects would be presented to council members tonight. That list would be further prioritized in a Wednesday 2 p.m. meeting. The mayor and city council will then vote on the new budget at its Thursday session, which begins at 9 a.m. All meetings are open to members of the public.
Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this article.
*Top image: A list of the proposed FY 2016 budget amendments made by City Council. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.