By Mayor Sylvester Turner
It was almost a year ago that I took the oath of office to be your mayor. My promise was that tomorrow will be better than today. It’s the same promise my mother made to me when I was growing up in Acres Homes. If you think about it, the promise of a better tomorrow is what has driven Houston from the start. As I look back on this first year in office, I am both proud and humbled by what we have achieved. As I greet the never-ending challenges of managing the 4th largest city in the nation, I feel support and guidance from places I never expected. Your willingness to cross political lines, set aside long held differences of opinion and listen to one another is allowing us to achieve big things for this great city. We are working together in ways never before seen. Hand in hand, we are building the Houston of tomorrow – a Houston with better roads, a Houston with secure finances, a Houston where everyone feels safe.
This new level of cooperation first surfaced in January when City departments long used to operating independently of one another came together to solve our pothole problem. The condition of our streets was the one complaint I had heard loudly and frequently from Houstonians while on the campaign trail. Within just two short weeks, City employees had met the challenge of a streamlined operation in which citizen reported potholes are repaired by the next business day. A year later, we are maintaining this performance standard 95 percent of the time. Overall, more than 40,000 potholes have been filled. With fewer potholes, we are able to turn our attention to more serious street repairs that take longer than a business day’s work.
In April, Houston suffered the worst flooding since Tropical Storm Allison. In many cases, the flood victims were the poorest members of our community. They lost housing and all possessions in one day. Houstonians banded together in an unprecedented relief effort and within a little more than one month, these residents had been placed in new housing with all the furnishings. I know fear grows in many of our neighborhoods every time dark clouds are building on the horizon. I have appointed the City’s first ever flood czar and we are gearing up to move forward with flood relief projects early in 2017.
One month later in May, conservatives and liberals on City Council came together to eliminate a $160 million budget shortfall, the worst since the Great Recession. We did it in record time and without massive layoffs or cuts in City services.
Now with personal sacrifice by our municipal employees, police officers and firefighters, we have a pension reform plan ready for the state legislature to approve that provides certainty and reliability now and for the future. This plan was crafted with input from a broad spectrum of Houstonians who have in the past disagreed on the right path forward. Labor unions, the business community, budget hawks and other stakeholders are all on the same page and moving forward together. This plan eliminates nearly $8 billion of unfunded pension debt. It provides structural budget balance moving forward and will result in more than $200 million of cost avoidance in its first year. No one has put forth an alternative that delivers the same immediate and long-term benefits while also creating secure and stable retirements for employees at an affordable price for taxpayers.
Our crime rate was also a priority this year. When it appeared as if we were headed toward a dramatic year-over-year increase in homicides, an extra $2 million was allocated for police overtime. Working with the community, HPD quickly crafted strategies to stop the upward trend. As of right now, we anticipate ending 2016 with about the same or fewer murders than 2015.
With the transition from one presidential administration to another in Washington comes a new challenge. Many in our community are afraid they will no longer fit in. They fear being victims of hate crimes; they fear being targeted for deportation. Houston has always been a welcoming city, and that is not going to change. The Houston that existed before the November election still exists today. We are a city where residents and law enforcement work hand in hand, where neighbor looks out for neighbor and where hate and intolerance are not accepted. There is new leadership at the Houston Police and Fire Departments: Police Chief Art Acevedo and Fire Chief Sam Pena understand Houston’s diversity and share my strong commitment to keeping our residents safe. The new chiefs, my office and all of the groups serving our immigrant and refugee communities are working together to ensure all residents continue to feel safe and protected.
When I look back on all that we have done this past year, I see tremendous progress toward a more responsive, streamlined and efficient City government. We are filling potholes faster, implementing pension reform, shoring up City finances and working to improve police relations. These are the major accomplishments of 2016, but there were also many smaller successes. Blue tarps were replaced with new roofs. We tackled the Kush epidemic, cleaned up neighborhood dump sites, housed more homeless and appointed the city’s first director of education. We even brought the World Petroleum Congress back to Houston after a 30 year absence.
Tomorrow is here, and it is better than yesterday, but both you and I know there are more tomorrows to come. I truly believe that in this city, if you can dream it, you can achieve it. So, as we prepare to ring in the New Year, I renew the promise I made on inauguration day 2016 and ask that you remain by my side to help. We have so much more to accomplish for this great city, and, together, we will get it done!