Sugar Land cuts budget by $1.5 million, removes proposal to close city pool

Over 20 residents addressed Sugar Land City Council at its regular meeting Tuesday after it notified residents of possible budget cuts officials were considering, including the closing of Sugar Land’s only city pool. City Council also voted to cut $1.5 million from its fiscal year 2018 budget.

Residents protest closing the city pool

Residents spoke at the public comment portion of the council meeting, a majority of whom spoke to advocate keeping the Sugar Land municipal pool open.

Representatives from the local swim team, the Sugar Land Sharks, were present with families, coaches, and supporters to protest. The majority of the speakers were parents of swimmers, who touted the benefits of how the pool affected their children.

“It would be an egregious mistake with enormous consequences to our community and to our only city swim team,” speaker Linda Jackson said. “We have disadvantaged kids from neighborhoods who don’t have pools.”

Speaker Brandon Lausser suggested the city work with the Sugar Land Sharks on fundraising efforts to come up with funds to keep the pool open.

“Finding the money does not have to be just the city’s responsibility,” he said. “I cannot believe it would be the best interest of the city to close a program that is most utilized by kids and voters with lesser means.”

Many parents spoke to testify the city pool provided significant benefits to the community—particularly the children.

“[The city pool] is an institution,” speaker Roy Adamcik said.

City officials agreed to remove the recommendation as part of its plan to cut the FY 2018 budget.

FY 2018 budget is slashed

In accordance to staff recommendation, City Council moved to amend the fiscal year 2018 budget by cutting a total of approximately $1.5 million, reducing city services and postponing capital improvement projects.

The city adopted a budget of $230.9 million and a property tax rate of $0.31762 per $100 of taxable value in September to meet required deadlines. However, the new tax rate does not fully fund the FY 2018 budget. In addition, city officials are projecting lower estimates of sales tax revenue based on recent months’ sales tax data.

The estimated amount of loss in property and sales tax revenue amounts to approximately $1.3 million.

As a result, City Council voted to eliminate three full-time staff positions and city-hosted events, such as the Fourth of July celebration, while also reducing funding for its employee merit pool, the city’s contingency, and maintenance services, such as street sweeping and landscaping, according to meeting documents.

City Council also approved to defer certain capital improvement projects to ensure the budget has capacity to cover damages inflicted by Tropical Storm Harvey, according to meeting documents. The projects included the design and construction of an emergency operations and dispatch center, a license plate recognition camera system, a roundabout, and a new animal shelter, according to meeting documents.

The $1.5 million will make up for the $1.3 million shortfall caused by decreasing revenue streams and allow the city to fund engineering studies to assess Harvey-related needs and damage.

City officials will also suspend the park bond projects. By canceling some projects from its capital improvement plan and delaying park bond projects, the city may free up $3.1 million in debt capacity to fund Harvey-related projects, according to meeting documents.

This measure passed with 4-to-3 vote with council members Amy Mitchell, Carol McCutcheon, and Mary Joyce in opposition.

Mitchell said she felt uncomfortable cutting certain items, such as the design and construction of an emergency operations and dispatch center, which may affect public safety.

These projects are necessities, especially since the city is annexing Greatwood and New Territory and taking on the needs of those communities, Mitchell said.

“We talked about needs versus wants,” she said. “From my understanding, [these projects] were not a want but a need. I’m troubled by the fact that we’re cutting things that are not wants but actual needs based on everything we’ve heard from the last few years leading up to the annexation.”

Joyce and McCutcheon also said they did not agree with some of the items staff singled out.

“The reason I voted against the budget [amendment] is because it was outside the scope of what was needed,” Joyce said.

Engineering department update council on engineering study

Sugar Land’s engineering department received the results of an engineering study pertaining to Harvey’s effect on the city, and staff is currently examining it and will present it to the public afterward, said Jorge Alba, the city’s senior engineer.

“What is next is we’re going to start looking at those reports and determine what actions can be done to mitigate this in the future, what projects we need to include in our [capital improvement plan], and, final step, we can begin working on those projects as we have identified with planning with the levee improvement districts and with Fort Bend County, ” Alba said.

It was a collaborative project with officials from Levee Improvement District 2 to identify homes that flooded as a result of Harvey and to study the cause for flooding, whether it is due to the LID’s equipment failure or foundation problems of the homes.

The LID water pumps worked at maximum capacity, pumping over 241,000 gallons of water per minute, Alba said.

“Most of our dams performed very well,” he said.

The two neighborhoods that received most of the water damages were Settlers Park and Chimneystone, which are older developments sitting at lower elevations, assistant city manager Chris Steubing said.

“The systems were completely overloaded,” Steubing said. “It’s the accumulation of rain back to back to back.”
By Renee Yan
Renee Yan graduated May 2017 from the University of Texas in Arlington with a degree in journalism, joining Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in July.