Let me start with this: I’m against raising the revenue cap. It’s not needed. The city wastes millions of taxpayer’s dollars and public monies. The money is there to put more police on the streets and pay the firefighters, as well as to efficiently and promptly provide the core services that residents expect. A few cost-saving examples:
Recently it was revealed at the airport that the Airport Enterprise Fund had spent $85 million in the intended renovation of the international receiving terminal. Unfortunately, only $11 million of that was spent on actual brick and mortar. The rest was wasted on a plan that now all of those involved agree was “flawed.” We have to do better. There should be immediate accountability of all of those involved in this debacle, to include the Mayor himself. The current mayor is frequently prone to calling himself a “CEO.” We all know that any CEO who oversaw a debacle similar to what is happening at the airport would have already been fired.
The current mayor offered up and pushed through a spending item such that the city would spend $3 million to place bands at the airport. Why? This is a colossal waste of money. Assuming that I, as mayor, would ever conclude that bands at the airport were a good idea—which I wouldn’t—there are individuals in this town who would provide this service for free. We have to do better in the way we spend money.
Every year the city spends upwards of $500,000 on holiday lights at city hall. Again, in light of the current budget situation, we simply can’t afford that. There are many light companies in this town that, if asked, would likely provide this service for free. Houston needs a mayor who is cognizant of the fact that every dollar spent doesn’t belong to the city; it instead belongs to the taxpayer. The answer to a need or problem is not always to spend more money!!
Each day as I drive around Houston I see city crews working on various projects. Inevitably, among members of the crew, there are always those on the phone, those sitting and watching, those standing and watching, and few actually working. We have to be more efficient, and take pride in the work that is done. As mayor, we will.
Similarly, it is my belief that every department of the city is overstaffed. Have you looked at the various departments within the city? When I’m mayor, department heads will have to justify the necessity of every employee, detail what that employee does for the city, and why that employee is needed. They will also have to justify the existence of their very department. I believe in motivating and keeping good personnel. I also believe that in any organization there are those who do not pull their weight and don’t really provide a service. We all have to understand that the existence of city job is not to provide an income for the employee, but is instead to provide a service for the citizens. With regard to personnel, of course, I will start with the mayor’s office itself. Currently, the mayor has—in his personal office—almost fifty individuals. If you count the other offices of which the mayor has direct control, that number is more than 100. That is too many!! As mayor, I will make it clear to city employees that we work for the citizens of Houston, not vice versa.
We currently employ an individual whose entire job is to encourage moviemakers to come to Houston to shoot their movies. We pay this individual more than $150,000 yearly, and provide her a fully paid for condo in Los Angeles. Do you know how many movies she has convinced to film in Houston? ZERO. We cannot keep spending money like a drunken sailor. This will end when I’m mayor.
Savings and increased revenues through the permitting process. Permitting, whether through the building department or the fire department, generates millions of dollars yearly for the city. As an example, the fire department alone generates almost $100 million in revenue for fire inspections. I think we can generate even more I have been in discussions with our fire department about ways we can hire and retain more fire inspectors, who can then conduct more inspections, in a more timely basis, and ultimately generate more revenue while providing better service to those trying to get their businesses going or the building occupied. Conversely, one constant refrain I hear when talking to those who run businesses in the city is that delays that frequently occur in projects while they wait for building permits. Remember, the quicker we issue permits, the more the builder saves, and the faster he gets into business. The faster the builder is operational, the more tax revenue is generated for the city. I’ve heard too many times that an individual seeking to open a business spends more time waiting for a permit than is spent in actually constructing the business. This must change. We can make sure that structures are suitable for a business and pass muster, while also being efficient and timely. As mayor, one idea that I am studying is privatizing some portions of the inspection process. Other cities have done so and have achieved great savings, all the while providing strict inspections on a timely basis.
Many residents don’t know that more than half of the city’s budget isn’t actually subject to actual oversight and review by city council. In fact, only about $2.7 Billion of the General Fund–out of more than $6.7 Billion total budget–is actually overseen by council. Whether it be Enterprise Funds or other dedicated funds, or whether it be the funds collected by the TIRZ’s, we have to get control over how those monies are spent. More transparency is needed in all departments–we should know how every penny is spent. And, remember, the whole purpose of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones are special zones were put in place to attract new investment in a defined area. Some of these TIRZ’s may need to go. We will need to review the efficacy of each TIRZ, and consider ways that some of these funds can be brought back to the General Fund to help provide core services for ALL areas of the city.