Takin’ It to the Streets: Show Me the Money!

Corpus Christi, Front Page

Chad Magill portrait

     This morning on KKTX radio show, “Lago in the Morning,”  Councilman Chad Magill discussed possible funding sources for the reconstruction and maintenance of residential streets.  He listed seven:

  1. General fund ($1 million)
  2. Industrial District fund ($550,000)
  3. Charter Amendment ($3.4 million)
  4. RTA contribution ($1.5 million)
  5. Type B funds ($3.4 million)
  6. Zero-Based Budgeting (undetermined amount)
  7. Gas tax (if possible)

Andy Taubman 1

This is in keeping with the findings of the Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee, chaired by Andy Taubman.  The following is directly from the report completed and published on May 23, 2016:

     Although financing and determining sources of new funds for street improvements was not a primary task of the Committee, it is worth sharing Committee thoughts on program financing, as well as outlining numerous potential sources of funds under discussion for proposed new residential street programs.

Monitor Activity, Spending and Outcomes from New Residential Street Funding:  We recommend the City regularly report and publish a clear accounting of how and where individual program dollars are spent and to be transparent if program funds are increased, decreased, or reallocated. Both the Residential TAR Program and the Residential Street Rebuild (Rework & Reconstruction) Program described in this report are designed as new programs with new funding in order to assure independent tracking and reporting on the activity, spending and outcomes derived from these new dollars.

Static Funding:  The Committee recognizes that static funding of programs over time may result in underfunding and/or understaffing program activity. A case in point is funding for City street operations has been flat for over a decade despite growth in the street network and the increased cost of inflation. It is important that program funding be increased annually at least at the general rate of inflation. As the City improves its ability to understand its standard cost structure, we expect the City will be in a better position to better determine growth demands and inflationary impact on actual program spending and then budget accordingly.

RTA Funding of City Street Aspects: Our survey of other Texas cities showed a number of cities receive  funding from their Transportation Authorities for both street maintenance and street reconstruction, expanding their traditional investment in bus stops and surrounding street elements, as well as for offsetting the wear and tear of city buses on the street network. The Committee Chair had preliminary meetings with the RTA regarding their funding of street improvements. In general, these discussions centered on RTA funding of about $1.5 million per year. Work still needs to be done to define the elements of street projects which support the RTA in their core mission of network transportation. We believe that bicycle mobility and American Disability Act accommodations are elements of street projects that are consistent with the RTA’s core mission to serve economically disadvantaged and disabled citizens. Additionally, the journey to and from residential homes to a bus stop is an important part of end-to-end service and leverages RTA’s substantial investment in bike and ADA accommodations.

The funding under consideration would be in addition to existing contributions to street programs by the RTA and not a reallocation of existing funding. It is expected that to the extent possible, we will work together to qualify this additional funding for direct or indirect Federal funding. Any actual arrangement between the RTA and the City must ultimately be determined and agreed to by the respective oversight  authorities.

Budget Savings and/or Reallocation of Existing Dollars. As part of the City’s zero based budgeting initiative, any re-prioritization of existing dollars, as well as any identified budget savings, should be considered in developing new funding for proposed residential street programs.

Dedicated General Fund and Industrial District Revenue. The Council’s Financial Budgetary Policies Resolution #029848 provides policy direction to the City Manager on the preparation of annual budgets. Included in this resolution are the defined General Fund and Industrial District Revenue contributions to residential street capital improvements. The resolution was discussed at length in the most recent  Council Retreat where the Council talked about reviewing these specific policies regularly for appropriate future funding levels, as well as for inflation and growth impacts.
• For 3 years beginning in 2015, transfer $1million each year from the uncommitted fund balance of the General Fund to the Residential Street Capital Fund.
• Beginning in 2016, transfer 5% of the Industrial District Revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding.

We recommend that the Council direct the City Manager to explore all possible funding sources for residential street programs and prepare a recommendation for Council consideration.

• In 2021, transfer 1/3 of one percent of the General Fund revenue less grants and industrial district revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding
• In 2022, transfer 2/3 of one percent of the General Fund revenue less grants and industrial district revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding
• In 2023, transfer one percent of the General Fund revenue less grants and industrial district revenue to the Residential Street Capital Funding

Repurpose Whataburger Field Debt Service Funds. The 1/8 cent dedicated sales tax known as Type A  funds approved by voters in 2002 is coming back to voters this November. Type A funds are allowed to be used primarily for economic development, affordable housing and some special event facility debt. In our case, the $2.5 million in annual debt service for Whataburger Field is funded by a portion of our  current Type A dollars. The Whataburger Field debt is paid off September 2017, freeing up  approximately $2.5 million a year in 2018 for another purpose.
Council is currently considering November ballot language changing from a Type A program to either a Type B program which allows spending dollars on arterial reconstruction or to a General Revenue program which allows the dollars to be spent on any street reconstruction, including directly on residential streets. If Type B is chosen, some future arterial reconstruction bond programs could be replaced with residential reconstruction bond programs.
Both options allow continued funding of economic development and affordable housing initiatives. Council is also considering a different allocation of these dedicated sales tax dollars to increase the money available for street improvements from $2.5 million to approximately $3.5 million annually.

Charter Revision for Additional Dedicated Operations and Maintenance Property Tax Revenue:  The current Charter Revision Committee is set to bring recommended charter changes to the City Council for potential consideration by voters in November. One measure under discussion would allow future City Councils to raise property tax rates under certain constraints for dedicated spending on street  improvements.

Dedicated Spending from Revenue Growth: Tax revenue generated by new growth each year in the City should be isolated and reported, with some portion of that revenue increase considered for dedicated spending on residential street improvements.

Ad Valorem Tax Increase. Currently one additional cent on the property tax rate generates about an additional $1.7 million per year which the Council could appropriate for any municipal purpose,  including street improvements.

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Chicago, 1855: Digging Down to Reach New Heights

Corpus Christi, Education, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial, Travel

The stories of Corpus Christi battling its streets problems reminds me of another story…

Chicago River Clark Street Bascule Bridge
Chicago River Clark Street Bascule Bridge

     A man who was passing through Chicago discovered another man buried to his neck in mud. “Sir, it appears you have a problem. You must need some help,” the passerby said.“No, thank you, I’ll be all right. I have a fine horse beneath me,” the man in the mud replied.

    People have proven many times over that while under the influence of necessity and behind the power of many, a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. As the old adage goes, “Together, we can move mountains.”  A brief look to history shows us how Chicagoans demonstrated the truth of this idea during the mid-19th century. Only they weren’t moving mountains; they were moving the entire city!

     At the time, Chicago was young – a mere 20 years – and it had a severe drainage problem. Streets became impassable in wet weather. Chicago is situated along the southwestern edge of Lake Michigan – a body of water the size of a small ocean.  The elevation at the time was essentially no different than that of sea-level. Besides being an annoying living condition, health and sanitation issues quickly became a major concern. The people needed an answer if they hoped to see their city grow and reach a point in which it could eventually become home to nearly 3 million people and one of the tallest skyscrapers the world has ever seen.

    After several failed attempts to plank over the streets and redirect standing water into the river, the Chicago Common Council (i.e. City Council), behind the plans of E.S. Chesbrough, determined that the only hope was to manually elevate the city (anywhere from 4-14 feet, location pending) and install the country’s first comprehensive storm-sewage system to solve the drainage quagmire and ensure the city would not become a permanent cesspool and breeding ground for cholera.

     A solution of such extreme measures, however, stimulated a greater and far more interesting obstacle: How in the world would they lift a city full of large buildings, homes, hotels, and not to mention – people – 14 feet in the air?  Enter George Pullman. Pullman developed a method employing hundreds of men turning thousands of jack screws beneath building foundations. Over the course of two decades, they jacked buildings up like cars (many with people still inside them) so that new foundations could be successfully poured beneath them, leaving both the city and its structures permanently elevated. Smaller homes and businesses were placed on rolling devices and wheeled to new locations. The streets were then leveled up to new heights to meet the level of front doors. New sewage drains were installed and designed to run from the streets down to the river and lake in an amazing effort which lifted Chicago from a wasteland of sludge.

     A report by the Chicago Press & Tribune in the March of 1860 issue:

“The entire front of first-class buildings on the north side of Lake Street between La Salle and Clark streets is now rising to grade at the rate of about twelve inches per day. It will be at its full height by tomorrow night, when it will constitute a spectacle not many of our citizens may see again, if ever, a business block covering nearly one acre, and weighing over twenty-five thousand tons resting on six thousand screws, upon which it has made an upward journey of four feet and ten inches.”


Raising of Chicago
The task of raising the Briggs House, a hotel at Randolph and Wells Streets, in 1857 involved the coordinated efforts of hundreds of workers. During the raising, the hotel remained open for business. (Chicago Historical Society)

     Cities, they say, develop a persona of their own, all of which is nothing if not indicative of the spirit of its citizens. Ultimately, when problems arise, people become faced with choices: accept your collective fate, ignore the coming future, or act accordingly. Mid-19th century Chicagoans proved early that they were determined to create the possibility that their city might eventually become the megalopolis that it is today. Little did they know that shortly after they were able to ascend from the squalor of sewage, the citizens of Chicago would be faced with yet another test in 1871, The Great Chicago Fire.  This time they would be forced to ascend from the ashes.  Ultimately, the people, like their story, now belong to the ages. But, such as any good anecdote – if remembered and studied – it can offer deeper answers for particularly troubling problems of the present. Perhaps Henry Ford said it best: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”


Chicago Today: Chicago River from Lake Street Bridge

Articles about Corpus Christi streets:

Takin’ It to the Streets: A Highly Qualified Committee

Takin’ It to the Streets: A Man with Questions

Takin’ It to the Streets:  Addressing the Status Quo

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