One common theme running through the campaigns of candidates for Galveston City Council is that the city looks bad.
Curbs are cracked. Streets have potholes that can wreck bikes and endanger small cars. The infrastructure is run down.
One response has been to award each council member $200,000 to spend in each of the six districts. The idea is to fix up the worst of the bad infrastructure.
The Daily News opposed that plan while sympathizing with desire to get something — anything — done. We have two objections.
First, this commits resources piecemeal, rather than according to a unified plan. Streets and water lines cross district lines. It makes no sense to fix part of a street. What City Council members should do is direct staff to come up with a list of priorities. Then they should stand back and let the staff work.
Second, $1.2 million just doesn’t cut it. This is a problem that would take $100 million to fix. But $50 million would be a credible start.
So as the candidates walk your block and ask for your vote, ask this question: Would you support a $50 million to $60 million bond issue? And would you be willing to do that without raising taxes?
Galveston’s infrastructure looks like it’s caving in because the city’s leaders don’t have a financial plan to repair and replace it.
Most cities spend money from the general fund for capital projects. A segment of the tax rate is set aside to support debt from bond issues. The range for most comparable cities is 17 cents per $100 of assessed value to 49 cents. A good average is about 25 cents per $100. Galveston spends 5 cents.
Does that mean Galveston’s total tax rate is lower?
No. It means Galveston spends more than the other cities on routine maintenance and operations — most of it for public safety. If you backed out the sales tax earmarked for property tax reduction, the segment of Galveston’s tax rate that supports routine maintenance and operations would be about 60 cents per $100 of assessed value. Most other comparable cities would need a tax rate of between 35 cents and 50 cents for routine operations.
That high cost is why Galveston, a city of about 50,000, has more public employees than League City, which has a population of 90,000.
League City has a lower tax rate for routine maintenance and operations. Its tax rate for capital projects is about four times the rate in Galveston.
What would happen if Galveston cut its routine spending on operations and shifted 10 cents of the tax rate over to cover capital projects?
It could float a bond issue of $50 million to $60 million. It could pave streets and fix a lot of other infrastructure.
It could, in other words, make a difference everybody could see.
Nineteen candidates for council and mayor are walking the neighborhoods, asking for your vote.
When they come calling, ask them if they have a real plan — a financial plan — for making Galveston look better.