DALLAS — Houston Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday unveiled the outlines of a $410 million general obligation bond referendum that could go to voters Nov. 6.
Parker said the size of the bond package was limited by the city’s capacity for additional debt without a property tax increase. The proposal is the smallest GO plan by the city in more than 30 years, she said.
“I realize many Houstonians are still recovering from the economic downturn,” Parker said at Wednesday’s council briefing session. “That is why it was important to me to present a plan that does not require a tax increase.”
Approval of the bonds would keep the city’s current property tax rate of $6.40 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“I know we have more than $410 million of needs,” she said. “We could issue up to $430 million without a tax increase, but it is not my intention to use up all that debt capacity.
“We’re dealing with a backlog of debt from earlier administrations,” Parker said. “It is better to go to the voters and say we are comfortable accessing $410 million.”
Parker, the city’s former comptroller, was elected to her second two-year term as mayor in November 2011.
The city council must approve an election ordinance by Aug. 20 to get the bond package on the ballot.
The city’s proposal could be on the same ballot with a planned $1.9 billion GO bond request by the Houston Independent School District.
The city’s $3.2 billion of outstanding debt is rated AA by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, and Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service.
Houston voters approved $625 million of GO bonds in November 2006 and $775 million of GOs in November 2001.
Houston has issued $600 million of pension bonds to shore up its three defined-pension plans for police, firefighters and municipal employees. The combined unfunded liability is more than $2 billion.
Parker said the $410 million would fund Houston’s capital improvement program for the next five to six years.
The total being requested would have been higher without the $125 million a year generated through a voter-approved utility charges and development fees, Parker said. The money is dedicated to street and drainage projects on a pay-as-you-go basis.
The bond package outlined by Parker includes $160 million for park projects, $144 million for public safety facilities, $63 million for upgrades at city buildings, $28 million for libraries, and $15 million to demolish substandard buildings to make way for affordable housing.