On Jan. 4 Sylvester Turner was sworn in as mayor of Houston. He won a very close race and a big thanks to all of you who voted or called your friends and family to vote for Turner.
Congratulations to him and all the council members who won their races. Mayor Turner and the Council now have a huge job ahead of them to balance the city budget while at the same time adding police officers to our force and adequately funding the pension systems.
Since pensions dominated the mayoral debates for the last several months, let me briefly comment. Not one Houston police officer has ever been given a break from paying our share toward the pension (9-10.25 percent) while the city has been given several breaks.
We have totally fulfilled our promise and fully expect the City of Houston to work with stakeholders to make sure pensions are funded and protected.
I am confident Mayor Turner has what it takes to get this accomplished.
Many said during the debates that Houston does not have a revenue problem, Houston has a spending problem. If we look at the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ) across the city and many citizens may be convinced Houston doesn’t have a revenue problem. Millions of funds are redirected to these specially designated zones across the city each year.
These funds could and should be used for public safety. I rarely rely on our local paper for information, but an article on July 25, 2014 in the Houston Chronicle stated the following:
A TIRZ works by locking in the dollar amount that the city receives in property tax revenue. If rising property values cause revenues to grow above that figure, they’re redirected to a TIRZ fund controlled by an appointed board that is supposed to improve local infrastructure and help foster business development.
Every time City Hall creates a TIRZ, it is a vote of no confidence in its own ability to properly collect and spend taxpayer dollars. It is a confession that Houston should be managed by unelected boards at secretive meetings who can issue debt without voter approval.
Sometimes a TIRZ spends money on worthwhile infrastructure: Uptown creating a Bus Rapid Transit system. Other times TIRZ expenditures are more questionable: Uptown lining feeder roads with concrete balls. But each TIRZ represents a moment when our elected officials decided to hand over the purse strings to someone else, diverting dollars that could have been spent shoring up pension obligations or paying down debt.
I am not opposed to the TIRZ system as each one assists with the revenue cap (another story all together), but do believe that each TIRZ should be paying for their public safety protection out of its funds. It is completely unfair to redirect money from the general fund, place it in a TIRZ, and expect other funds to pay for the public safety in that specially designated area.
The mayor does not control each TIRZ, but he does appoint the members to each one of them. Mayor Turner should make sure that each appointee understands where this money comes from and the intent of its use.
To add to the financial issues the City of Houston faces, blame also rests with former Mayor Bill White. White made tiny cuts in property taxes for five years that actually meant very little relief for individual taxpayers, but was a huge hit when it was all added together.
The same goes for the TIRZ system. I do not advocate abolishing any TIRZ, but do believe it’s time they begin paying the total costs of their public safety. While I agreed with Bill King on very little, he was right that we need to get back to basics and public safety is basic!
I was contacted on Dec. 23 by an incredibly generous friend. He advised me that he wanted to bring some joy to some Houstonians while also desiring to give some positive publicity to our police officers.
He told me that he wanted to give $5,000 in $100 bills and wanted persons stopped for minor infractions to be given $100 instead of a citation. He placed stickers on each of the 50 bills that read, “Merry Christmas from your Secret Santa.” I thought it was a great idea and made a phone call to Chief McClelland. He approved the idea within seconds!
HPOU Board Member and Westside Patrol Officer Tim Whitaker was selected to disburse the cash. He and his probationary officer, J. C. Rivera, began stopping traffic just after 2 p.m. on Dec. 23 and disbursed all the cash by 10 p.m.
Yes, they had to have probable cause and did complete racial profile forms!
The stories were incredible. Many of the persons cried. One had just arrived in Houston and was broke. One lady had no gift for her daughter for Christmas. And all were so thankful for this generous gift.
My friend did not want his name disclosed, but I want you to know that he has assisted first responders and military heroes for many years and is an incredible role model.
Sad ending to 2015
We had a rough ending to 2015 with two active officers and fellow HPOU members passing away within a 24-hour period. Please keep the families of Selvan O’Brien and John Lambert in your prayers.
On behalf of the entire HPOU Board of Directors, I want to wish each of you a happy, safe and healthy 2016!