State of City is Good, Can be Better

Houston Mayor Bill White says quality of life issues are his priority during the remainder of his term. The mayor spoke to nearly 2,000 people at the annual State of the City address Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Mayor Bill White addressed his remarks to local elected officials and members of the Greater Houston Partnership. He says since he gave his first state of the city address four years ago, the Houston region has added a quarter of a million new employees. The mayor says that kind of growth creates new challenges, and the first one he listed was violent crime.

"The violent crime rate has declined by eight percent since 2003, the year before this administration came to office. But we need to do still more. And to do this we need to add some additional officers to our police force. So what we're going to do with the help of our city council and our budget and our classes underway in the next two years we're going to add eight percent."

The mayor says that effort, combined with efforts over the past 18 months, will add 500 officers to the force. He also pledged to increase funding for drainage and flood control. The city currently spends $250 million on drainage and White says he'd like to double that, without raising fees or taxes, by dedicating a portion of the property tax. White mentioned these and other challenges, but most of his speech centered on future initiatives to balance preservation and development in communities.ξξ

"We believe that consumers should have a wide choice of diverse options of housing and commercial facilities. We think there's reasonable regulations that could allow us to do that while avoiding the over-regulation that has plagued cities and driven up the cost of affordable housing. I mean look, Houston is one of the only big cities in the country right now where a middle-class family can afford a house in the city limits. I like that, don't you?"

White asked civic leaders and developers to stop viewing each other as enemies. The mayor also touted a new energy code, pledged $2 million a year for planting trees and outlined a new recycling effort.

"We need to recycle the wood, the branches and the grass that we dump wholescale into our solid waste facilities in this region. It is ridiculous! And by the end of this year we need to have chipping facilities and recycling facilities for wooded waste and grass for all four quadrants of our city. And we need our citizens to help us because if we want to do this effectively we need to segregate those waste streams out from the sofas and everything else people put out there on heavy trash day."

Mayor White then closed his remarks thanking the city employees and singled out Houston Firefighter Brandon Everett, who was critically injured while fighting a house fire on MLK Day, saying Everett represents the City of Houston and its employees better than his words or the words of any elected official. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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