The city manager unveiled the plan during City Council’s April 20 meeting, held via teleconference, which comes as a result of a previous discussion from City Council on April 6 based on the current COVID-19 pandemic and the trickle-down effect it is projected to have on Bellaire’s future finances.
“The pandemic’s impact on general fund revenues could be significant,” City Manager Paul Hofmann wrote in his report to the council. “We can reasonably anticipate that most Bellaire businesses will rebound once the current restrictions are lifted, and that impacts on sales tax revenues are short-lived. However, and as many Council Members said on April 6th, the longer-term impact of the pandemic, and lowered oil prices, may be to reduce permitting activity, the property tax collection rate and property values.”
The city of Bellaire is in the process of developing the second-quarter financial report for FY 2019-20 and will include a worst-case scenario of how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the current fiscal year’s budgeted expenses and revenue, which will be presented to council May 4.
Meanwhile, the city manager’s FY 2020-21 reorganization plan, should it be implemented wholly as presented, would cut recurring net expenditures by $250,000. Should Bellaire move ahead with the reorganization, it would not be effective until FY 2020-21 begins Oct. 1.
Two positions, one currently filled, would be eliminated should the public works and development services departments be combined, Hofmann presented to the council. A director position for the new department would be filled through a competitive process. The city engineer function would be moved in house, and the city’s annual contract with ARKK Engineering could be significantly reduced or eliminated as a result. The current contracts for construction management services or master drainage concept plan would not be affected, Hofmann said.
Hofmann asked for council feedback on the plan, which will be considered for any additional planning and implementation.
Council Member Catherine Lewis said she disagreed specifically with moving the city engineer function in-house.
“I find that a little disturbing because the city engineer gives us valuable, technical feedback,” she said. “His contract is approved by the council. He should not be reporting to the city manager.”
Council Member Nathan Wesely, meanwhile, expressed skepticism about needing so much organizational shuffling for hypothetically eliminating three positions. He also requested more information.
“I’m highly skeptical about the plan because of what we don’t have,” he said. “We need a lot more information.”
Under the plan, the finance department would see a management-level position, plus two utility billing clerk positions, moved to the new combined department. An existing finance department position would also be reclassified to include both benefits administration and payroll functions and moved to the human resources department while another, currently filled, would be eliminated.
Effects to planning and financial reporting would be felt by such a reorganization, Hofmann said, in addition to the city’s wellness initiatives, which are designed to promote a healthy workforce and reduce benefit costs to employees and the city in the long term.