Houston Mayor Don Tottingham on Monday asked the city council to develop a strategic plan to better the community that would encompass several years.
Tottingham said he was encouraging the council, himself and city administrator to engage in developing a vision that would focus of improvements for Houston.
“I think we need to look at the future on what we want to plan for Houston,” Tottingham said. He noted other efforts had resulted in new streets and improvements. At the same time, he said, the city needs to look at it reserves and determine what it can afford to do to make the community better.
As part of the discussion, Tottingham asked that a former long-time city councilman, Don Romines, give a historical perspective on the city’s finances and the main funding mechanisms that contribute the lion’s share of revenue for operation of city government. The city’s enterprise funds — electric, water and sewer — generate the most revenue, followed by sales tax revenue for general purposes, streets, sidewalks and utility work, along with property taxes. Romines walked the council through various sales taxes that were used to pay everything from debt at a new wastewater sewer plant to a new fire truck. With the exception of one time, Houston citizens have never turned down a sales tax for projects to better the community, he said.
Romines made some suggestions, but noted it was the council’s job on how money should be spent:
•Watch reserves closely. The city has about $4.8 million. The city’s auditor says about 50 percent of the annual budget should be stashed away. The annual financial document ranges from $7 to $10 million, depending how many projects are underway.
•Be transparent with the voters on finances.
•Closely watch budget reports to see how revenues and expenditures are trending.
•Don’t carry an extreme amount of money in the day-to-day checkbook. An auditor recommended the equivalent of three months of expenditures. The surplus could be invested.
•Get creative with its financial planning: Once the city borrowed money from the electrical fund at a much cheaper rate than it could have with a traditional lender to pay for a fire truck. A sales tax, approved by voters, paid back the principal. The effort saved taxpayers money.
•Develop a one-, three-, five- and 10-year plan to plot the community’s needs.