Houston residents can look forward to a smattering of facility upgrades – including repaired libraries, new community centers and renovated fire stations – thanks to what appeared to be overwhelming voter support for $495 million in public improvement bonds.
Propositions B through E passed easily Tuesday despite anemic local turnout in a city lacking a marquee race.
The bonds’ passage, which will not require a property tax increase, would authorize Houston to issue $159 million in public safety debt, $104 million for parks, $109 million for improvements to general government facilities and $123 million for libraries. They are the first the city has requested since 2012.
Those sums include $52 million for a multi-purpose facility in southwest Houston’s Alief neighborhood next fiscal year, $25 million over the next two years for a new community center in Sunnyside, in south Houston, $54 million to replace aging fire trucks and $66 million for police vehicles.
“I’m glad that the citizens of Houston are finally recognizing that we all need the infrastructure equally,” said Councilman Steve Le, who represents District F, home to Alief. “I think the impact on the community is going to be very, very positive.”
The city’s project plan – which is non-binding – also sets aside $87 million for unspecified upgrades to library facilities and $21 million for unnamed parks improvements, among a series of other small renovation projects.
Although Hurricane Harvey displaced thousands of residents, likely diminishing turnout, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said the storm also may have inspired the few voters who made it to the polls to support the public improvement bonds.
“I think Harvey sparked a kind of civic pride in people and a realization that the city needs to invest in itself to be able to be on firm footing for the future,” Rottinghaus said. “Most people pretty much discount the future prospects that the bonds will create any kind of economic havoc, so typically bonds are passed at pretty high rates.”
Houston’s 2012 bond package totaled $410 million and also passed easily.
Steve Martinez, 60, would have voted against most, if not all, of the city bonds had it not been for Hurricane Harvey.
“Harvey damaged the city and I think we should pass the propositions so leaders can have the money necessary to improve our parks, libraries and services,” said Martinez, whose Fifth Ward home flooded during the storm. “We’re still recovering and I think this is a special situation. We should use this to fix everything else while the rest of the money goes to flood repairs.”
Danielle McCutcheon, 38, felt differently. She figured approving the bonds could put the city on poor financial footing down the line, necessitating a tax hike.
“The city needs to address its spending issues,” said the Midtown resident, who voted against all of the public improvement bonds, except those funding public safety. “You can’t keep borrowing against the future.”
Meanwhile, residents of Houston’s Heights neighborhood, in the northwest, were set to further loosen restrictions on area alcohol sales.
Heights voters already had lifted a 105-year-old ban on the sale of beer and wine at grocery stores last year, but customers who wanted to drink at neighborhood restaurants or bars still had to join a “private club” by submitting a driver’s license for entry into a database.
Passing Proposition F lifts that requirement, leaving the neighborhood nearly wet. Liquor sales at grocery and convenience stores still would be banned.
Morgan Weber, co-owner of a company that operates three Heights restaurants, including Coltivare and Eight Row Flint, heralded the likely change.
“We can’t wait,” he said. “If we can operate as any other restaurant in the city, absolutely we’re going to take that opportunity.”