Marvin applies his deep political science knowledge to guide his thinking. His teaching skillset enables him to enroll and influence his peers in new ideas. He views Houston and its needs through the lens of a man of faith, a husband, and father.
Our job in City Government is to Keep First Things FIRST
Government is best when focused on those tasks and aspects of our lives that we must fulfill together.
City and civic leaders must keep these first things first, taking up others first in a posture of collaboration with other civic leaders and the public at large. As a member of City Council, Professor McNeese will push to take advantage of the following immediate opportunities to restore faith in City Hall by keeping first things first.
Safety is priority one.
Keeping ourselves safe from threats, both human and natural, is our number one priority.
Maintaining roads, clean water, and cleaning up waste are critical businesses.
Accountable accounting is essential to our work.
DRAIN our Streets
We can prioritize City drainage dollars to improve drainage on the roads in front of our homes and businesses. This will fill in the gaps left from improvements along to actual flooding.
A fresh approach to drainage is what we need. What we have been (or haven’t) been doing isn’t working. Marvin brings fresh eyes, and new solutions to the drainage problems Houston is facing.
Direct ALL ReBuild Houston Funds to Drainage improvements.
Houston voters gave the City a steady influx of funds through the ReBuild Houston program to improve drainage. Since 2012, $1.1 billion (about 40%) of ReBuild Houston funds have been diverted from street projects to pay down debt that was already being repaid from regular tax receipts. The damage during Harvey could have been prevented if the deepening and improvements of Brays Bayou, which costs $550 million – only half of the amount of the diverted funds – had been completed as the voters trusted City leaders to do when they voted in favor of ReBuild Houston in 2012.
The present deepening of Brays Bayou that would have prevented the damage that Harvey caused costs $550 million, half of the amount of the diverted funds. This is not hindsight; Brays Bayou had flooded during Allison and other rain events. That’s why we voters approved these funds. We need city leaders with the right priorities.
Reallocate the $260 Million Difference between Tax Revenue Increases and Staff Reductions over the past 10 years ($111 Million in the past two)
Property and Sales tax revenues do not always rise, but they have risen an average of 3% every year for the past 10 years. That represents an additional $107 million accounting for inflation. Over those same years, the City cut 2350 staff positions paid for out of these funds, representing a savings of $153 million. Just the past two years saw an $109 million increase in revenues and a modest $2 million savings from staff reductions. These funds are not missing, they were spent on something, but that something was not public safety in that neither police nor fire saw staff increases. We should look back, at least a bit, and determine whether the apparent spending increase can be reallocated back to public safety as our first priority.
Fill the gaps around Federal/State/County projects.
Worst damage from Harvey flooding occurred along the Brays, Buffalo, and San Jacinto watersheds, with considerable damage along Greens, Clear Creek, and Addicks watersheds. Federal and county dollars already implemented improvements in all but the Cypress and San Jacinto watersheds, though there is significant discussion about creating a third reservoir to aid the Cypress area. Even after these detention and conveyance projects are complete, there will still be work to do getting our streets to properly drain into these improved water passageways. For example, once detention basins upstream and downstream of Greenspoint are completed, the Union Pacific Railroad bridge at the Hardy Toll Road will still need to be lengthened/widened to allow more water to pass underneath. That’s a place where the City can concentrate its drainage spending.
Inform and alert all stakeholders about flooding.
We can know and predict how our region takes on water. Data is available from past events, insurance claims, FEMA individual assistance claims, calls for assistance, and damage surveys. Combined with building slab elevations, we can create and regularly update more detailed flood maps which are useful for understanding both ordinary rain events as well as the 100-year and 500-year floods. Those maps then need to be shared broadly with residents and developers so that they may plan accordingly. The City’s building ordinances also need to be revised accordingly. Lastly, this data should underlay a flood alert system that pushes notices out in real time to residents threatened by impending rainfall. Since 1997, Rice University’s SSPEED Center has operated a flood alert system on Brays Bayou through the Texas Medical Center. For an estimated $5-$10 million—less than the cost of a single detention basin—that alert system could be expanded to other bayous, especially those surrounded by dense housing.
Hire MORE Police and Solve
We can reallocate our budget to put $168 million directly into public safety. Houston needs more police officers. There are places in the City’s budget to find the funds for the 1300+ officers needed immediately.
- Among the nation’s 10 largest police departments, only Las Vegas has fewer police officers per resident.
- Visible police presence is the #1 deterrent of crime
- HPD response times average around five minutes and the department often has to send just one police officer per patrol car to respond to dangerous calls.
- About 40% of workable crime cases remain unsolved year after year.
Commit $30 Million of Next Year’s Revenue Growth to Public Safety
Our economy is doing well, and we have, therefore, every reason to believe that sales tax and property tax revenue will increase for FY19. Current forecasts are for growth of 2.4%. City leaders should commit to use the bulk of that increase for hiring more peace officers. Growth of 1.55% of FY18’s revenues would equal about $30 million.
Re-coup $25 Million from TIRZ-related Demand on City Services
TIRZ, or Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones, are legal entities that have governmental authority to develop economically specific geographic areas by capturing and reinvesting the growth in property taxes that result from the redevelopment. In 2018, this growth resulted in about $140 million in TIRZ revenues from City property taxes alone. As development related growth happens, demands for police, fire, and other City services will increase. TIRZs should be required to form Municipal Service Agreements, whereby they can contribute towards the cost of those services. Though the actual costs of those services would be determined based on a number of factors, estimating that cost to comprise 15% of revenues would add $20 Million to the Fire and Police budgets.
Additionally, the City could serve as the fiscal agent of the TIRZs. Many of the TIRZ already contract with law firms and other entities for lease office and meeting space, as well as administrative services, accounting, and consulting. If the City were to contract with the TIRZs for such services. Even at 2%-4% of each TIRZ’s budget, such relationships would generate $3-$6 million to the City.
Save $3 Million by Granting Automatic Plan Approval to Seasoned Architects and Engineers
Fully credentialed architects and engineers are experts on the international building and construction codes as well as the latest technologies and innovations in products and building methods. Those who have worked in Houston for some time have become experts also on the City’s particular building codes, as well. We should rely on that expertise by granting the plans such architects and engineers present automatic approval without review. We should only require they register. That would allow us to make a large reduction in the Building Code Enforcement division of the City’s Public Works and Engineering department. All construction projects would still require all the inspections otherwise required, to ensure safe buildings and projects that meet City standards. Not only would this save the City an estimated $3 million, it would reduce construction project timelines by 27 days on average, saving the industry both time and money.
Strengthen Our Economy
Tax Cuts to Small Start-Ups that Create Jobs and Attract Money to Houston
We know of headline grabbing efforts to attract large, outside businesses like Amazon.com or sports teams to the area. City leaders often offer a package of tax-related benefits to those business designed help ensure profits by lowering operating costs. We should offer the same encouragement to Houstonians to start businesses that add more jobs to our economy. These businesses routinely produce more than 40% of all jobs, goods and services in our economy.
Taxes, particularly property taxes, are problematic for start-ups since they must be paid regardless of whether the firm has generated sufficient revenues. City leaders can offer reductions or even exemptions for the early years of new firms. To maximize the benefit of the lost tax revenue, the cuts should target firms that hire at least two other employees other than the firms owners, as well as firms that bring outside money into Houston by attracting outside investors and/or selling products/services to customers outside of the area.
Equity means solutions that fund drainage solutions, police officers, and city services to serve in every community–not just a select few.
Make sure that improvement in essential city services takes priority over new initiatives as funding increases. Coordinate better with Houston’s non-profit heroes to solve our toughest social problems.
The people of our City should have trust and faith in the leadership our City Council is providing and its ability to serve their needs well. We should all have faith that progress is possible and the future of our City is bright.
Get in Touch
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