Houston's city government discussed its spending plan for 2018 during a meeting Monday at Houston City Hall. 

Members of the Houston City Council moved closer Monday to approving a $7.7 million budget, including the addition of a police officer and economic development director.

The six-member council and Mayor Don Tottingham met Friday for the first time to discuss the document developed by City Administrator Tona Bowen. As in past years, revenues are driven by electrical profits, city sales and property taxes.

Highlights in the budget, which is expected to be finalized at a 6:30 p.m. Dec. 26 meeting at Houston City Hall, included:

•An across-the-board raise of 2 percent to the city’s workforce. Two employees may be advanced on the salary schedule based on the recommendations of department heads. A 1 percent increase was required for the city’s retirement plan, and work was completed to improve workers’ insurance coverages. The city will pay $674 per employee per month.

•A 15 percent increase in liability insurance costs is budgeted, but the actual cost is expected to be less.

•The city’s police force would be expanded by one officer and a vehicle purchased. The force’s oldest vehicle may be replaced — depending on the revenue outlook.

•A five-year contract for the department’s Taser system would be executed that includes replacement costs over its term.

•The city’s street department budget includes Thomasville Road ditch repairs, a $10,000 storage shed, a backhoe payment, funds to repair a Main Street bridge that received heavy damage during a spring flood (FEMA will pick up 75 percent of the upfront costs). The city’s annual asphalt overlay program will continue. A new vehicle for the public grounds department may also be purchased.

•A new fueling system that includes credit card payments for pilots at the Houston Memorial Airport. Funds for 90 percent of the cost will be available in fiscal year 2019 from the FAA.

•Purchase of a thermal imaging camera for the fire department.  

•A small tiller for the cemetery department.

•Tabling a splash pad project at the swimming pool as examination of a new recreation facility that includes a swimming pool is considered.

•Converting the sandlot volleyball court at West Side Park into a basketball court.

•A used half-ton pickup and zero-turn mower for the parks department. Additionally, features will be added to Rutherford Park off Westwood Drive. The parks director position is open, and interviews tentatively begin Dec. 26. The budget also includes two new part-time assistants — for 1,080 hours each.

•A project by the water-sewer department to reduce infiltration into its system that is primarily funded by a grant. Some equipment needs are included and back up motors for two sewer lift stations would be bought.

•Renovated space for the electrical department at its Oak Hill Drive quarters to include some office footage and room for computer needs. A $117,000 outlay is included for a small bucket truck, and an old vehicle may be placed in a consignment sale.

•Training for some linemen. Those participating must stay on the workforce for two years or repay the monies.

•Concrete improvements at a driveway and parking area at the electric department’s building.  Also included is $100,000 for automated metering, the first year of a multi-year effort. The system will allow the city to turn electrical service on and off from city hall, read meters remotely and give better information about usage.

•$50,000 to hire a fill a vacant economic development position at city hall.

•$100,000 in flood mitigation in and around the Houston Visitors Center at Oak Hill Drive and Highway F (Walnut Street), where historic flooding in the spring caused some issues.

Former City Alderman Don Romines, who had reviewed the budget, attended the meeting. He pointed out that expenditures and income figures weren’t balanced, which led the council to delay adoption of the annual spending document until the error was corrected.

Additionally, he cautioned the council to closely monitor its expenditures and ensure that revenue is sufficient. He questioned figures that showed electrical billings jumped nearly $370,000 this year on revenue of about $3.86 million when the previous two years had decreased. Rate payers see their electrical bills go up 3 percent annually each February. He praised the council for proposing to fill an economic development position.

In other matters, the council:

•Repealed section 18.2 of the city code that prevented firearms in city buildings. Previously, persons could be denied entrance to a building or be ordered to leave. Signage preventing firearms will be removed.

•Heard that contract services for Elaine Campbell, grant writer and development director, were included in the budget. She’ll also receive a 2 percent raise.

•Authorized the city’s annual agreement with the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce.

•Learned there is a need for volunteer firefighters.

•Will advertise at the beginning of the year for a licensed operator for its wastewater treatment plant. That post became vacant with the resignation of Jerry Jackson.

•Heard that FEMA funds will help pay for repairs at the Houston Visitors Center, a Main Street bridge, along the Brushy Creek Trail and wastewater treatment plant. The agency will provide 75 percent of the cost upfront. 

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