Community hall file photo

District of Houston spending plans

It took two meetings but the District of Houston council completed an in-depth examination of spending plans sufficient for this year and to chart a complete and balanced five-year financial projection.

The examination of what’s called the supplementary budget, which is separate from base level operations, resulted in some cuts to contemplated spending but also preserved longer term project planning.

With council already approving a budget to complete its showpiece Hwy. 16 improvement program this year, and to continue with future year phases for downtown revitalization taking in 10th and 11th from Copeland to Butler, it has approved a continuing long term plan to replace the aging community hall and, eventually, a new firehall.

The community hall calls for a concept plan at a cost of $50,000 which would be the first phase leading to a projected expenditure of $4.9 million.

There’s already just over $1 million in a community hall reserve fund but significant senior government grants would be needed as well.

Council was cautioned, however, that should a suitable location be identified requiring a purchase, the cost would not be covered by grants being sought for the project.

And staffers did say that once a concept plan had been developed, the District would seek more public input into the project.

A concept plan for a new fire hall is also being readied for release with a projected price tag of $7 million.

“The purpose is to begin planning for replacement over the next 10 years and position the District to access grant funding going forward,” indicates a District project worksheet.

When it comes to road works this year, the District is contemplating an expenditure of $200,000 with 6th Street, Baggerman/Omenica Crescent and Hungerford Drive being prime candidates this year removing their current layer of asphalt and replacing it in a process called “mill and fill”.

But a policy, to be enshrined in the finished financial plan, could result in additional roadworks being conducted.

Money would come from funds the District has allocated for other projects that did not proceed because senior government grants needed to complete financing weren’t approved.

Any such work would be decided on a case by case basis.

Curb and gutter work planned for this year would replace the section of sidewalk from the bus stop on Hagman to the intersection with Pearson Road. This would continue a sidewalk replacement project along Hagman that began in 2018. A $84,200 price tag has been estimated.

The first phase of a multi-year project at a cost of $603,070 to replace all of the District’s directional and information signs has been approved. Just over $153,000 would be spent this year.

This would not involve one larger sign identified as a “downtown gateway” indicator as that $134,550 cost comes out of an existing downtown revitalization budget.

One project that took two meetings to finally be approved was the purchase of webcasting and live-streaming equipment so that council, particularly because of attendance restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, could better provide a way for citizen involvement in District activities.

“The individual equipment will depend on the scope taken or the project, bu Council has also expressed a willingness to upgrade existing systems, such as network and teleconferencing systems,” indicates a worksheet.

The approved budget is $30,000 at a maximum but could be as low as $5,000.

Next year’s municipal election results should be known faster now that council has authorized the money needed to lease ballot counting machines.

That cost, which one estimate placed at $8,745, has been folded into a $30,000 overall budget for the election.

Council did decide on two budget cuts, both for future years.

The first was to reduce from $50,000 year to $25,000 planned spending on parks safety upgrades for the years 2022-2025 and the second was to cut planned 2023 spending on the sign replacement project by $20,000.

But should the financial picture change in a positive fashion, restoring these cuts are to be given reinstatement priority.

There remained some very minor cuts needed for 2022, 2023 and in 2025 to bring the five-year financial plan into balance, but chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck said the amounts were small enough that they could be made by modest reductions to spending projections in those years.

Council has now given staffers direction to prepare by-law based on the agreed upon financial plan for the next five years for presentation at the next council meeting on April 6. Council will also consider taxation scenarios at the same meeting.

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