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State of the City 2012

It’s getting better.

Saying Houston has “rounded the corner” on the recession, Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday credited City Hall with providing incentives that businesses used to create or retain 13,000 jobs and invest $1 billion locally during the tough economic times of her first term.

Parker also told the sold-out crowd for her third annual “State of the City” address to expect a bond election on the November ballot.

Afterward, the mayor would not say how much borrowing she will ask voters to approve or offer many specifics about what it would be spent on, other than to mention a plan to “string the beads” of the city’s park system by connecting them with bike paths and green corridors.

The last city bond election was in 2006, when voters authorized $625 million in borrowing to finance work on streets, drainage, parks, libraries and public safety. She said this year’s election will not require a tax increase.

Parker also announced that she expects this year’s budget to be flat, as opposed to the $100 million shortfall she and City Council had to close last year. She also said she will not have to lay off or furlough any workers this year. She issued pink slips to 764 employees last year.

The mayor contrasted this year’s optimism with her previous addresses in which she said she “tried to deliver bad news in the best way possible.”

The full text as prepared for the State of the City 2012 is here, and you can compare it to the addresses of 2010 and 2011. I did not see a specific mention of the budget being flat, but Mayor Parker did say that unlike last year, “the budget I will send to City Council next month will not include cuts in swimming pool and library hours, health care services, furloughs or layoffs”, so that’s good news. The main thing beside that from the speech that caught my eye was this:

We are transforming the way we do long-term planning for infrastructure improvements – planning ten years down the road instead of just five. For the first time we have a comprehensive analysis of the condition of every mile of city streets and a watershed level drainage assessment. We have a plan to address them in a systematic, worst-comes-first, pay-as-you-go manner.

The work has already started. This year the City will start almost 30 new projects for street and drainage improvements with a value of approximately $250 million. A major storm sewer and road project on Aldine Westfield from Tidwell to West Little York and drainage improvements in the Brays Village area are examples of the projects already underway.

Voter approval of Rebuild Houston was a visionary step that will reap benefits for our neighborhoods for years to come. It was the right thing, the prudent thing, a faith-in-our-future thing to do, and I defy you to name another city in America that would have made this bold step in the midst of a recession.

After all the false starts and missteps with the determination of what the drainage fee would be, the best way to turn that around is to show results. This is the first public mention I can recall of active Rebuild Houston projects. I hope to hear more this year. People like seeing roads get fixed. It’s tangible, and it’s the sort of thing that just about everybody agrees should be done. Let’s not let this go under the radar. Stace and Nancy Sims have more.

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