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.

Heber Taylor is editor of The Daily News.

(5) comments

Matt Coulson

omg, I agree with Heber. But does this mean that he supports a fight, because that's what it will be, with the public employes unions?

Ted Wagner

Agree, Heber, that a unified plan for public improvements is optimal, and necessary. However, the comparison to LC is apples & oranges, and the end result is certainly not as simple as waving a financial wand, instantaneously boosting bond payments at the expense of operations funding.

Galveston's infrastructure is older, and has been ignored far too long. Maintenance needs are extensive & will persist for some time, as improvements are made. Not only streets, but aged water & sewer lines, inoperable fire hydrants & dare I say it, water meter failures/transponder issues, come to mind, for starters.

Agree, something needs to get started, sooner than later. But there must dedicated efforts toward the following:

1) Draft the list of desired/needed improvements
2) Analyzed past maintenance costs, in light of proposed improvements, in projecting future maintenance needs
3) Review funding, in light of improvements & maintenance needs
4) Prioritize improvements, based on available funding, issuing new debt within financial means.

Steve Fouga

To piggyback on t14wagner's comments, it's not analytically proper to compare Galveston with cities it's not similar to, like League City.

Galveston is a different sort of town -- tourism economy, different demographics, true seacoast environment, the weather is even different, and it's OLD. I don't have proof, but I bet the water table is closer to the surface.

But the idea of doing a serious analysis and establishing priorities is a good one, something the City should do regularly.

Any talk of raising taxes should be hushed now and forevermore, or at least for the foreseeable future. G-Town taxes are already too high.

GW Cornelius

Fact is the money is already there and staff has been instructed to fix it. We have not had a city manager since Steve that could get the job done. Now we have Brian who is more than capable to get it done. The Council needs to stay out of the way and let him do what he does so well and fix the streets .

Steve Fouga

Sounds like a good plan to me, if the money is really there.

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