The funding comes from $404 million allocated to the city by the federal government in April, which must be expended by Dec. 31. The city is required to spend them on coronavirus-related expenses and not on any purchases that were already budgeted; however, the definition of “coronavirus-related" has come into question at times over the past several months.
"When you take some of [the purchases] out [of the overall proposal], would they stand alone?" said District G Council Member Greg Travis, who voted against the measure. “We get more of these each week that have less to do with COVID emergency spending.”
The Nov. 4 vote came a week after Council Member Amy Peck raised questions about the city’s inclusion of $300,000 of trash bins for the solid waste department in an earlier round of spending. Mayor Sylvester Turner and other city officials justified the expense because the solid waste department reported higher demand during coronavirus lockdowns.
Here are some of the biggest-ticket items from this round of spending.
$5 million for radios for the Houston Police Department
Having new radios will reduce the number of officers who share individual radios, city documents stated. The new versions also have “non-porous” touch screens that work with gloves, according to the documents.
In a separate round of spending, Mayor Sylvester Turner approved $4 million in overtime for HPD to combat what he and Chief Acevedo described as rising crime levels related to coronavirus stressors. The move was criticized by some police reform advocates.
$3 million for a relief fund for local music venues and musicians
Musicians and music venues facing financial trouble from coronavirus-related shutdowns will soon have an opportunity to apply for aid from the city of Houston.
$3 million for a relief fund for child care centers
As more residents return to work, they are finding fewer child care options available, city documents stated. This measure is intended to increase access to child care.
$862,900 for cloth masks
This purchase includes 1.3 million masks in child and adult sizes for the Houston Office of Special Events and for Complete Communities.
$730,000 for a flood monitor system
The monitor system aims to monitor threat to hospitals, fire stations, wastewater treatment plants and nursing homes, the documents stated.
Other expenses included personal protective equipment for the Houston Police Department, “Library Lockers” for Houston Public Library to allow residents to access books after hours, and equipment to help city employees work remotely.