Sugar Land Council approves city budget
After months of workshop discussions and public hearings, Mayor Joe Zimmerman and the Sugar Land City Council recently approved the FY 2019 city budget and property tax rate by a vote of five-to-two.
The $245.4 million budget includes funding for a new police and fire safety training facility, $5.2 million for street repairs and improvements, $2.2 million in drainage improvements and slightly more than $1 million for roadway improvements at the city airport, according to agenda documents.
After much discussion, it was decided that funding for three parks improvement projects approved by voters five years ago would be delayed another year.
According to city officials, the council would need to approve a half-a-cent to a full one-cent increase to the property tax rate to provide funding for the projects..
Mayor Joe Zimmerman voiced concerns increasing property taxes and said he thought it was best to delay the parks projects. As an alternate solution, Zimmerman vowed to seek outside funding for the parks projects.
“It’s possible thru the Houston-Galveston Area Council that federal funds could be used to complete the trails,” Zimmerman said. “I happen to the on the HGAC board and sit on the transportation policy council where those items come through.”
Zimmerman said told the council he would work to advocate that the projects are completed through HGAC funding.
In 2013, Sugar Land voters approved bonds totaling $31.46 million for parks improvements. Of the total, three parks improvement projects have so far remained sidelined including $10.16 million in bond funds approved to connect 10 miles of hike and bike trails and bridges.
Council member Amy Mitchell applauded the mayor’s idea to seek alternative funding.
“I really hope we can figure out a way to build the trails without our tax payers having to pay for it,” she said.
However, two council members opposed the decision.
“I think it’s the height of arrogance to overturn a legitimate vote of the people,” Council member Steve Porter said, and went on to challenge Mayor Zimmerman’s assertion that the parks projects could be funded through HGAC.
HGAC allocates federal funding, Porter said.
“The kinds of things that come up are helping with Hurricane Harvey, job training, air quality, water quality. I don’t think Sugar Land’s (park) trails are going to rise to the level to overturn job training for our region,” he said. “Our residents voted for this and we should deliver.”
Council member Bridget Yeung also voiced opposition to delaying the bond projects.
“I believe the parks projects are still very important,” Yeung said.
In 2013, the trails project gained significant support because people felt safety was an important issue for residents who now have to ride their bikes or run in the street, Yeung said.
“Every week almost we hear about bicyclists being killed in Houston because they’re biking in the street and get hit. It would be very difficult to connect the trails in Houston but it wouldn’t be difficult here and people have already approved this.”
The approved property tax rate was set at the same as last year’s rate of $.31762 per $100 or property tax valuation. Due to increased average property values, the rate is expected to generate a 2.63 percent increase in revenues.
The FY 2019 budget and property tax rate was approved five-to-two. Council members Porter and Young voted in opposition.