Politics

Mayor Turner Targets Flooding, Fiscal Crisis In First State Of The City Speech

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced former city councilman Stephen Costello as Houston’s new flood czar. He also called for a repeal of the city’s revenue cap.

portrait of Turner
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered his first State of the City message before a gathering of the Greater Houston Partnership. Turner focused on the need to reduce the risk of flooding and address the fiscal crisis.

Mayor Turner was originally scheduled to deliver his address on Monday, April 18. He said the rainfall and rising bayous that day flooded thousands of homes and apartment buildings – some for the second, third, or fourth times.

“Property owners throughout our area have become weary of flooding in the Bayou City, have become impatient with elected officials who offer platitudes, explanations with no practical solutions, and some have and others are close to packing up and leaving our city, unless we can convince them that we are doing to do exponentially more than what they currently see,” Turner said.

The mayor announced the appointment of Stephen Costello as the city’s chief resilience officer or “flood czar.” Costello, a civil engineer and former city council member, will be responsible for developing and implementing plans to improve drainage and reduce the risk of future floods.

Turner then turned his attention to the city’s fiscal problems. Next Tuesday, he said, he will formally propose his budget for the next fiscal year, cutting spending by $82 million. That will mean eliminating nearly 200 jobs, though the layoffs would not touch police or fire fighters.

“And there will be five police cadet classes instead of the usual four,” he said. ”For the first time in many years, the number of police officers at HPD is starting to inch up. And with the added cadet class, we will have more police on the force.”

Turner warned, though, that spending cuts alone aren’t enough to deal with the problem of the city’s unfunded pensions. He said he is working with representatives from the pension boards to lower the city’s obligations. But part of the solution will have to involve new taxes.

“Assuming a resolution is reached and enacted by the legislature,” he said, “I shall ask each of you, the Partnership, and all Houstonians, in November of 2017 to remove the revenue cap imposed in 2004, which has been repeatedly criticized by all credit rating agencies.”

Failing that, Turner said, Houston is looking at sharp cuts to city services come fiscal year 2018. That would include services needed to prevent or respond to future flooding.

 

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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