Council Member Costello Named Chair of Budget & Fiscal Affairs
April 5, 2011

(NEWS RELEASE) Monday, April 4, 2011 – Council Member Stephen C. Costello, the At-Large Position 1 representative, has been named chair of City Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee. 

Costello, who has served as the committee’s vice chair since December, will take over the chairmanship at the April 5th committee meeting.  The Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, comprised of all fourteen council members, oversees expenditures totaling more than $4 billion dollars annually in the City’s General Fund, Enterprise Funds, Capital Improvement Fund and Equipment Acquisition Fund.  Costello will succeed Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, who has served as chair since January of 2008. 

“I thank Mayor Parker for the confidence she has placed in me with this appointment,” said Costello.   “I also thank Council Member Clutterbuck for her service over the past three years and her intelligent and insightful leadership. 

“I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to tackle the City’s current budget situation,” Costello added.  “With the new budget year beginning July 1, we have a real challenge balancing services with the funds available.  My colleagues and I have spent the past two months sitting down with department directors in a series of work sessions going over each and every program and service currently offered by the City.   We have examined services both in terms of their cost and their impact to the community.  The projected budget gap will force some tough decisions and I will work hard as chair of the committee to seek consensus in determining the future direction of our City’s spending. “ 

Costello also serves as chair of City Council’s Flooding and Drainage Committee.

Coalition for a Greater Houston Rejects Mayors’ Exemption Proposal
March 28, 2011

As Mayor Annise Parker prepares to meet in a special called meeting with members of  city council Monday afternoon to explain her proposed changes to Proposition 1, Rebuild Houston, a coalition of church, school, business and community leaders is rejecting the compromise plan.

The group says it will not support Mayor Annise Parker’s proposal on church and school exemptions.

“Unfortunately the mayor still has not responded to the fundamental concerns of the community by this very limited exemption plan.” They plan to express these concerns at today’s Drainage and Flooding Committee meeting in “full force,” stated coalition spokesman Paul Bettencourt.

(news release)

Bettencourt explained that the basis for her exemptions is the revelation that the proposed initial fee raised more revenues than the minimum $125 million and the exemptions were still in fact paid for by the rest of the taxpayers. “We have said from the first day that churches, schools and charities should be exempted from this de facto property tax, however it must be done so the amount of the exemption is not placed on the backs of the homeowners and businesses,” Bettencourt said. “Her exemptions are based on overcharging the rest of the taxpayers rather than doing it right.”

Pastor Steve Riggle, speaking on behalf of the churches in the coalition asserted that there are two other “fatal flaws” in the mayor’s proposal. “Her proposed exemptions are not granted to churches and schools built after this ordinance takes effect, which is patently unacceptable,” Riggle asserted.  “In addition, she should simply support and wait on passage of SB 714 and HB 1022 in the legislature so private schools, hospitals and charities such as Salvation Army can be exempted as they are from existing property taxes.”

Both Bettencourt and Riggle affirmed the coalition’s complete opposition to any implementation of an ordinance at this time. “There is an election challenge lawsuit in the courts over the deceptively vague ballot language and the city council should not act until it is decided.” Bettencourt stated. “In addition we would expect Councilman Costello to abide by Article 7, Section 4 of the City of Houston Charter and avoid the obvious conflict of interest provisions by not voting on the proposed drainage fee ordinance,” he concluded.

Riggle concurred and said that Mayor Parker and the city council should act to restore the trust lost in city government by “putting on the brakes.” “If the mayor and city council truly want to govern with integrity it is time to just stop this ill conceived scheme by not implementing the ordinance until this dark cloud of moral, ethical and legal questions are resolved.”

Mayor Parker Announces Changes to Rebuild Houston That Will Impact Your Wallet
March 25, 2011

March 25, 2010    
For weeks, local church leaders, school districts and some individual taxpayers have been complaining about Prop. 1, Rebuild Houston.Senator Dan Patrick of Houston had proposed legislation to exempt churches and school districts and some opponents filed a lawsuit to stop the plan from being implemented.Mayor Annise Parker announced Friday afternoon that she has heard the complaints and is making changes that will have to be approved by city council.

(news release)

Mayor Parker Announces New Rebuild Houston Funding Plan with Exemptions and Assistance for Low Income

Mayor Annise Parker today announced that she will ask City Council next week to approve a new Rebuild Houston funding plan that includes exemptions for churches and schools.  In addition to the exemptions, the City will set aside half a million dollars that will be available to assist the disabled, senior citizens and low-income residents who cannot afford the drainage charge. “I presented the draft Rebuild Houston Ordinance on February 6, 2011,” said Mayor Parker.  “It was exactly as I promised voters, with no exemptions and everyone paying their fair share.  After 10 town hall meetings, two public hearings, and discussions with council members, I believe this new plan properly balances community needs.  I promised Houston homeowners this would cost them about $5 a month.  The calculations indicate we can keep that promise while still helping our cash-strapped schools and our churches, and providing assistance to those who can’t afford the fee.” Mayor Parker wanted to work this out here at home, not at the state capitol, and appreciates the patience of her colleagues in Austin, especially State Representative Harold Dutton.  She calls this is an example of local control that accomplishes the goals she set at the beginning of this process.The city charter amendment approved by Houston voters last fall mandates the imposition of a new drainage fee to raise a minimum of $125 million annually for a dedicated, pay-as-you-go, street and drainage improvement program.  Monies raised from the fee must be placed in a lock box and cannot be used for other city needs. 

For efficiency and cost-savings, the city intends to bill property owners, when possible, by including the fee on city water bills.  Billing is scheduled to begin in July. 

Houston City Council will be briefed on details of the new fee, assistance plan and enforcement mechanism at a committee meeting at 2:30 p.m. Monday, March 28, 2011.  City Council will be asked to vote on the plan Wednesday

Should Churches And Schools Be Forced To Pay The “Rain Tax”
March 7, 2011

The Houston Area Pastor Council is renewing calls to exempt churches and schools from Rebuild Houston.

Mayor Annise Parker has spent the last few weeks outlining plans for the so-called “Rain Tax.”

Beginning in July, property owners in Houston will be charged a monthly fee that will go into a designated fund for street and drainage repair.  Voters narrowly approved Proposition One last November. A plan to help reduce street flooding across the city.

Opponents of  Rebuild Houston plan to attend a public hearing this coming Wednesday to voice their concern about the program.

The group issued a news release Sunday Night: 

Diverse City Coalition Calls on Mayor to Exempt Churches and Schools From “Rain Tax”


 Houston, TX – Pastor Steve Riggle, Senior Pastor of Grace Community Church, Executive Committee member of Houston Area Pastor Council and a member of the Coalition For a Greater Houston is one of a diverse group of community leaders involved in opposing the implementation of Rebuild Houston.  Passed in November with a razor-slim margin of .9 percent as Proposition 1, a growing number of people believe there are major issues that require investigation.

 “The legal and ethical questions surrounding the development, funding and passage of Proposition 1 are ominous to say the least,” stated Pastor Riggle.  “The ballot language said nothing about a new tax on property they are calling a fee, nothing about the amount of the fee, nothing about placing a $125 million minimum with no cap and certainly nothing about taxing churches. We are calling on Mayor Annise Parker to drop her longstanding opposition to the exemption of churches and schools from the new drainage fee, or “Rain Tax” as we call it,” Riggle added.

 Proposition 1 was promoted as simply creating a designated fund for flood and drainage improvements, to be partially supported with revenues from a “drainage charge” that was not defined on the ballot.  “The $.032 per impervious square foot “fee” now being proposed by the Mayor is nothing more than a “tax by another name” and would give Houston the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of any major city in Texas that has a drainage fee, with the exception of Austin,” stated former Harris County Tax Assessor/Collector  Paul Bettencourt.

 “This oppressive new tax of tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on already struggling churches, schools and businesses in a down economy is guaranteed to drive economic growth away and outside the city,” Bettencourt also stated.

Riggle concluded his statement by pointing out that as light has been shed on some clear conflicts of interest surrounding Proposition 1, the appearance of a scheme to deceive the voters becomes clear.  “The open connections between a city council member who is doing business with the city, the industry he is part of that funded Proposition 1 and the millions of dollars they will reap should raise red flags from city hall to the Secretary of State.  If special interests can use the election process as a direct business venture we have lost self-government.”

 Also announced were plans to call all constituencies of the coalition to attend the March 9, Rebuild Houston public hearing at city hall in force.  “We plan to make sure that the mayor and city council have no problem hearing the voice of the citizens,” Bettencourt concluded.