DALLAS — Houston voters should expect a general obligation bond election in November, Mayor Annise Parker said Thursday in her third state of the city address.
“I want to give everybody the heads up,” Parker said. “We need one. It is coming.”
Houston could use bond proceeds to link city parks and bayous, the mayor said, connecting them with a comprehensive system of green-space corridors and hike-and-bike trails like “a string of beads.”
The current park trail system consists of too many unconnected, short segments, she said at a news conference following the 27-minute speech.
Parker declined to be specific on how much debt would be requested at a potential November vote, but said the bonds would not require an increase in the city’s property tax rate of $6.40 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Houston voters approved $625 million of GO bonds in November 2006 and $775 million of GOs in November 2001.
The city’s $3.2 billion of outstanding debt is rated AA by Standard & Poor’s and Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service.
Parker, the city’s former comptroller, was elected to her second two-year term as mayor in November 2011.
Almost $100 million had to be cut from the fiscal 2012 budget and almost 800 workers were laid off due to revenue declines, Parker said, but the fiscal 2013 budget will not require that level of hard choices and sacrifice.
“While the revenues the city relies upon are still recovering, we have rounded the corner on the tough times of the last five years,” she said.
Parker said she will send the City Council a budget for next year with no layoffs, no furloughs, and no reduction in library or park hours. In most cases, she said, spending will remain at current levels.
“We have made this progress not by raising taxes or mortgaging the city’s future with debt, but by firm fiscal stewardship,” she said.
Achieving long-term fiscal stability will require a solution to Houston’s pension problems, according to the Democratic mayor.
“This is not about doing away with pensions for city workers, or pitting defined benefits against defined contributions,” she said. “I want fair, financially secure and affordable pensions for all city employees and the taxpayers who pay the bills.”
“It’s at one level about math, simple math, but it is ultimately about the security of our city,” Parker said.
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.
Assessed property values in Houston fell in fiscal 2011 for the first time since 1993, and again slightly in fiscal 2012 to a current $142.8 billion. Property values in Harris County are expected to rise 4.5% in this year’s assessment.