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HCA/ASCE joint meeting featuring guest speaker, Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Friday, September 22, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jeff Nielsen
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HCA/ASCE joint meeting featuring guest speaker, Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The Houston Contractors Association was proud to welcome Mayor Sylvester Turner as the guest speaker for our annual joint luncheon with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).  The mayor thanked everyone for coming out and recognized some of the elected and public officials in the audience.  To begin his comments the mayor stated that he didn’t know if there was Democratic or Republican infrastructure to him it is all just infrastructure.  “There is no such thing as a Democratic pothole” stated Turner.  The mayor did comment on looming, hurricane Harvey, that at the time was in the Gulf of Mexico threatening Houston, stating that he didn’t wish anything bad on anybody but he wants that storm to just go to the west and leave us alone.  He noted that it looks like we would be on the dirty side of the storm no matter what, and urged people do their part and be prepared.  He urged people to use good common sense and to not get out into the storm if they don’t have to.  He stated that he has been in close contact with the County Judge and the commissioners to prepare for the storm, and they feel confident that they are as prepared as they can be for the storm.

The Mayor thanked Steve Costello for the work that he has done as the Flood Tsar for the city, recognizing his work on the storm water action items that he has put in place.  Costello was also instrumental in the city working with the Texas Water Development Board to acquire the $46 million that was forwarded over to the Harris County Flood Control District to move forward with the Braes Bayou project.  There are two other similar projects that the city will be looking to do the same with after Braes is completed.  Mayor Turner stated that infrastructure is critically important and the city cannot sustain the level of growth that we are seeing today without the infrastructure to support it.  “We have to move these projects along and we have to find the means to fund them” said Turner. When people’s homes are flooded, they do not want to hear the rhetoric from the city, they want to know what is going to be done to keep this from happening again.  That is why programs like Rebuild Houston are so important.  The Mayor said that in the absence of the Rebuild Houston program, much of the city’s street and drainage projects would come to a halt.  Mayor Turner stated that the Rebuild Houston program will not be on the ballot this year but it will be there in 2018 and it is the city’s responsibility to prove to the taxpayers that when they are paying the drainage fee that funds this program, that they are getting what they expected.

Public improvement bonds will be on the ballot in November according to Mayor Turner.  Those would include public safety, parks, libraries and multi-service centers with all the bonds totaling $495 million.  This will be done without a tax increase said the mayor and he asked for everyone’s support for these items.  He also noted that the Pension Obligation Bonds will be on the ballot this November.  The mayor stated that we have been facing these pension challenges for the last seventeen years with the unfunded liability growing to $8.2 billion and the cost to the City of Houston being a million dollars a day.  The mayor’s proposal to mix the problem was passed by the Texas legislature in both houses by a two thirds majority.  The mayor stated that the voters must now approve the $1 billion pension obligation bonds.  Turner noted that this is not new debt but old debt.  Over the last fifteen years the city has borrowed from the police and employee pension system approximately $750 million to do various projects.  Fire has never allowed any loans to the city.  In the reforms, the employee groups will be reducing their future retirement benefits by about $3 billion. In exchange the employees want the money back that the city has borrowed.  The city borrowed the money at 8.5% interest rate and the city can get a pension obligation bond at 4.5% today. Turner compared this to refinancing your home and stated that it makes good sense.

Mayor Turner next stated that the Northeast water purification plant is moving forward.  This is a huge project and one of the largest in the country and the world.  City Council just approved a CIP worth $4.5 billion with over 300 projects on the way and, 106 that are under construction now with a value of $600 million.   The City has been meeting with the EPA regarding a consent decree since 2010.  There is no question that the city needs to address the problem it has with sanitary sewer overflows (SSO’s) said the mayor.  The question is whether or not we will be told to do it a certain way that does not meet our particular concerns.  City studies show that 90% of the SSO’s occur during dry situations, not during rain events.  The EPA is pushing the city to address the 10% of the problem that that occurs during wet weather and will cost the city approximately $5 billion.  The mayor stated that he is hopeful that this new presidential administration will allow the city to come up with a new, data driven solution to the problem.  This is going to be a huge infrastructure program and Turner said he believes we will come up with a solution in the next couple of months.

Mayor Turner closed his remarks by stating that the City works best when it partners with you.  We welcome your input, your advice and your suggestions.  We need Public Works to work and not be a hindrance to your operation.  He invited everyone to the table to work as a team so that we can make sure that we are delivering to our customers.


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