The city of Jersey Village plans to embark on several major capital projects over the next few years that city officials said are intended to refresh the city’s look and boost its reputation.
Budget projects for the 2019-20 fiscal year a new City Hall facility. Officials also anticipate construction to begin at Village Center, a planned 43-acre, mixed-use center along Jones Road. Meanwhile, the start of construction on a new convention center at the Jersey Meadow Golf Course has been delayed as city officials revisit options for the project.
Ultimately, officials said they hope to start drawing in more outsiders to spend money at local businesses.
“We are trying to be much more aggressive in our approach to economic development,” City Manager Austin Bleess said.
At the same time, city officials are asking for less tax money from residents. An increase in homestead exemptions garnered unanimous approval from the Jersey Village City Council in June, which translates to a decrease in property tax revenue for the city of about $290,000 from the previous year.
The combined effects of the increase in spending and the drop in tax revenue led the city to adopt a $4 million deficit budget for fiscal year 2019-20 at a Sept. 16 meeting. At that meeting, Jersey Village Mayor Andrew Mitcham said the deficit is by design.
“We’ve drawn quite the surplus over the last few years, and now it’s time for the city to start spending that down,” Mitcham said.
Creating a destination
One of the driving forces behind several of the city’s capital projects—as well as the Village Center—is an effort to make Jersey Village more of a destination, Mitcham said.
Mitcham, who was elected mayor in May after serving two terms as a City Council member, said his initial involvement in city politics stemmed from a feeling that development had passed the city by.
“Arriving back in Jersey Village after growing up there, everything was very much the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “But if my wife and I wanted to go on a date night, we’d essentially go farther out into Cypress or into CityCentre.”
Saul Valentin is the founder of Collaborate, the architecture and development firm brought on board by the city to build Village Center. He said he believes mobility improvements along Hwy. 290 have left the city primed for growth.
“When we started to really do to the market research, [Hwy.] 290 was the only highway in Houston to not have a big development. I-10 has CityCentre. I-45 has The Woodlands. Hwy. 59 has the Sugar Land Town Square,” he said. “The fact that the city had this land available was just like all the stars aligning.”
Upon completion, the 43-acre center is expected to feature a mix of retail, dining, multifamily, hotel and green space, Valentin said. Construction on City Hall could kick off in February at the site, Bleess said.
City officials are also planning a new convention center at the Jersey Meadow Golf Course, which Bleess said should serve as another source of outside revenue. However, original plans for a two-story project are being reanalyzed and a project timeline is unclear.
After bids came back in July, the lowest bid came in at $5.1 million, higher than the $3.6 million the city was hoping to spend. At an Oct. 14 Jersey Village City Council meeting, council members received several options from city staff to keep the project closer to its budget, including reimagining the building as a single-story facility.
After some discussion, council members opted to allow city staff to regroup with plans to schedule a future workshop. Council members were largely in agreement that the existing golf course facility needs to be torn down and replaced.
"We've got to remember the mission," Council Member Drew Wasson said. "It's to kind of set a new step ... to get a building the community can use, beyond just Jersey Village, to draw people in and be a signature place for Jersey Meadow."
At the Sept. 16 meeting, resident Randy Raimond told the Jersey Village City Council he thinks investing in the golf course is a good idea.
“The clubhouse will only enhance the community,” he said. “I think our property values will increase because of those decisions.”
Resident Simon Hughes said he appreciates the city's efforts to improve entertainment and leisure offerings in Jersey Village, but questioned the viability of bringing a hotel to the Village Center in addition to a new convention center to the golf course.
"No one has shown that this project is not going to eventually increase the burden on taxpayers," he said.
Other budget items include drainage and street improvements around Wall Street and hiring two new police officers and firefighters.
Sales tax hopes
With the Village Center moving forward, city officials are optimistic about seeing a boost to sales tax revenue in the future, a trend that could result in more property tax relief for residents, Bleess said.
The amount of sales tax revenue the city brought in during FY 2018-19 exceeded projections by about $900,000, according to budget data. Bleess attributed the gains to the city’s success in using economic incentives to draw companies into the city, including Argos USA, which officials speculate could eventually provide an additional $1 million in sales tax revenue for the city's general fund and $1 million for its Crime Control District.
The city’s FY 2019-20 budget includes a $4 million deficit—an amount that will be filled by city reserves.
Revenue is still expected to rise from FY 2018-19 with sales taxes making up a larger portion. Property taxes made up 42% of city revenue last year, and sales tax made up 28%. The remaining 29% is composed of fees, fines and transfers from other funds. For FY 2019-20, Bleess projected property tax to make up 37% and sales tax to make up 34%.
“Trying to get the percentages of the revenue budget to be a bit more equal was a goal for the city,” Bleess said. “It’s great to see that we have been able to do that.”
Editor's note: A version of this story that appeared in the Oct. 23 edition of Community Impact Newspaper featured plans for a convention center at the Jersey Meadow Golf Course that have since changed. This story has been updated to reflect the ongoing discussions surrounding the convention center.