Newsflash

Proposition One

One thing is certain in Houston: when it rains, it pours. At the polls on November 2, that old adage will take on a special meaning as citizens face a decision to approve funding for drainage and infrastructure improvements, or to say “no” to what some critics say amounts to a “Rain Tax,” similar to the one defeated by petition in 2003.

According to Mayor Annise Parker’s detailed plan, released September 29, Proposition 1 on the ballot would create a “pay-as-you-go” fund, dedicated to improving and maintaining Houston’s streets and drainage system, with a calculated contribution from every commercial, residential and instituti- onal property holder. The fund –– along with developer impact fees, remittances from Metro and an 11.8-cent ad valorem property tax already dedicated to street and drainage projects –– would cover capital improvements, ongoing maintenance and compliance with Federal and State Water Quality Laws through 2032. 

The proposed drainage fee, based on square footage of total “hard areas” within a residential or commercial property, would be fixed for 10 years and require a two-thirds vote by City Council to raise the rate. For properties served by curb-and-gutter streets, the fee would be calculated at $.32 per square foot of total “hard areas,” defined as impervious paved surfaces and the concrete slab forming the footprint of a building. For properties along “open-ditch” streets, the fee would be calculated at $.26 per square foot. 

The plan details the example of a typical homeowner with a 5,000-square-foot lot encompassing a 1,900-square-foot house and garage. This homeowner would pay either $4.12 or $5.07 a month, depending on the type of drainage system within the neighborhood, or an estimated an annual fee of $49.44 or $60.84.

“Hard areas” for each property would be calculated using Harris County Appraisal District data, Geographical Information System (GIS) data and other publicly available mapping systems, such as Google Earth. An online verification system and an appeals process through a neutral body would be implemented to resolve disputed calculations. The proposed plan (detailed on www.voteforprop1.com), has garnered the support of a number of neighborhood, civic and homeowners’ associations, and an endorsement from The Houston Chronicle, as well as Councilmembers Melissa Noriega and Stephen Costello and Harris County Constable Victor Trevino.

Opponents of Proposition 1 (www.stopprop1.com) point to a number of flaws, including the lack of exemptions for school districts, churches and charitable organizations. They claim the proposed “Rain Tax” would cost those organizations $520 per acre, or potentially $7,000 to $20,000 a year. “This is effectively a property tax –– except in name only,” said former Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt. “And, unlike most property taxes where charities, schools, churches and even homeowners over 65 have an exemption, or at least, great protection, in this case they have none.”

“Proponents have been calling it a ‘lock box’ because all the money going into it will go for drainage. The problem is that it’s a lock box without a top because there is no limit to the fee they can charge,” he said. “This is the worst way to write a fee or a new tax. I think taxpayers should have some definition of what the maximum charge is. It’s as wide open a blank check as you can ask for.”

“The need for improved drainage will always be here in Houston, but this is a very flawed vehicle and a very expensive one,” he said. “What I strenuously object to is that a lot of this is already being handled in the property tax collections and now it’s going to be shifted to a fee, which means that no one is going to offer a discount on the property tax rate.” And City Hall has already raised water rates –– an 18 percent rate hike is already on the books, Bettencourt added.  “In a recession, why are we not cutting costs, instead of raising taxes?” he asked. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Bettencourt continued, “HISD and Spring Branch are Robin Hood school districts. If you tax them for x-number of millions of dollars, they can’t get the money from the state or any more from the taxpayer. They’re going to have to lay off teachers, at minimum. They have no choice. It really is preposterously bad public policy to be putting charities, churches and school districts into a tax like this.

”The plan’s exemptions are in compliance with the current state law, said Council Member Noriega who added that she would be in favor of considering other exemptions. Moreover, this is an opportunity for the City to fund improvements to the infrastructure with a “pay-as-you-go” plan,  instead of borrowing, she said. “It represents a step forward instead of doing nothing at all. 

“I don’t think that it’s perfect. I don’t think we’ve fleshed out all the details. I think if we have the money to address infrastructure — whether it’s enough money or not — we need to do what we say we’re going to do,” she said. “This may be the most important issue to come up in my time. Every time it rains, Houston is going under water, and every time someone pours a driveway or a patio, it gets worse.

“If mothers going to get their kids in the afternoons can’t get there because of the water, or folks can’t get to their offices, or if people can’t get in and out of our airports, then we can’t function as a city that makes people money and as a business center and international city,” she added. 

If Proposition 1 is approved by voters, the implementation ordinance would be presented to City Council in March 2011, and a database and website would follow in April and May, respectively. Fees will begin to be imposed in July 2011, and property owners would no longer be subject to individual assessments for street improvements. Undeveloped land would be exempt.

The mayor’s plan also includes a process for establishing which improvement projects would take priority. According to the plan, the current five-year Capital Improvements Plan would be used until a comprehensive street and drainage needs re-assessment could be completed. Needs assessments for street improvements would be based on a technical evaluation and the Pavement Condition Report. The needs assessment for drainage systems would also be based on a technical evaluation, as well as a Comprehensive Drainage Plan prepared in 1999, and a plan currently being updated by a Storm Water Enhanced Evaluation Tool (SWEET). Both needs assessments would be presented to City Council in July 2011. An oversight committee, consisting of parties with significant background in community development and infrastructure assess- ments, will be appointed. The plan stipulates that appointees may not be city employees nor drawn from contractors, engineers or firms participating in the street and drainage improvement programs. The City’s Small/Minority/Women/Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (SMWDBE) program will be enforced for selecting project contracts, and a “Hire Houston First” focus will be maintained. A mentoring program similar to that utilized during the Greater Houston Wastewater Program of the early 1990s and internships in partnership with local colleges will also be implemented.

Difficult Family Members

We all want our home to be our sanctuary…a place where we can be ourselves and experience peace, happiness and love. But, sometimes the people in our life make that difficult. Jealously, in-fighting, moodiness, gossiping, nagging, nit-picking and other small and large behaviors can make being with loved ones near impossible. Even if the difficult family members live elsewhere, the ramifications of their words and actions can be felt miles away and can take years to get over.

Always remember that difficult people are good for you, but they’re not necessarily good to you! In other words, their purpose is to help you look at yourself and decide who you want to become. You’re going to change with time anyway; difficult people simply help make you more aware of what direction you decide to go in your own life.

When you have a difficult person in your life, you often feel like you don’t have any power in the situation. However, with a little self-reflection, understanding and decision-making, you can make the most of any difficult relationship. Following are a few suggestions for maintaining harmony in your life.

Trust your feelings.
When you’re at work, you’re usually in a fact-based world where feelings have little merit. If someone hurts your feelings, the normal practice is to keep it to yourself and push through your work. While that approach may be correct for the workplace, it’s a recipe for disaster in your personal life.

At home, feelings reign supreme. Home is where your emotions belong, where you need to trust your feelings and listen to what your heart tells you. If someone in your personal life hurts your feelings or you have a difficult relationship, it is always best to tell the other person, as that’s the only way to discover how you both really feel. Keeping your emotions bottled up and pushing through your daily routine only breeds resentment and can lead to lies. Therefore, listen to what your feelings tell you, and then caringly and gently approach the difficult person in a non-confrontational way.

For example, if a sibling or in-law nit-picks on things that you do or say, don’t be rude or criticize them back. That always is a sure formula to make things worse. Put the focus on your feelings by saying, “I respect your opinion, and I do care about you and your input in my life, but is there a way we can both be different without the difference causing more differences?” Involve the other party in the resolution process so you can both take responsibility for your actions.

Take responsibility for the relationship.
If you’re having a problem with someone, stop and look at your role in the relationship. Are you playing the “tit for tat,” “forgive but not forget,” “two wrongs can make a right” game? Are you bringing up touchy subjects or doing things that you know will set the other person off?

Remember that every relationship is a two-way street; therefore, it’s time to look at how you may be contributing to the difficult behavior. Be honest with yourself. Do you have some underlying feelings or resentment that the other person is bringing out that you need to address? Relationships are often like a mirror. The difficult person is merely reflecting something you don’t like in yourself. Really listen to what the other person is saying or analyze what they’re doing. Look deep. Why are their words or actions rubbing you the wrong way and hurting your feelings? Is this person reflecting something you don’t like about yourself? Don’t expect people to like you when you don’t like them.

Commit to learning from every relationship.
Every difficult person in your life is actually helping you learn something you can use for your future. For example, suppose you have a mother who constantly yells, screams and throws tantrums when things don’t go her way. You certainly don’t like being around her when she does this, so you make a mental note that you’ll never act like that when you’re in a stressful situation. Later, when you find yourself in a stressful predicament, even if you do feel like yelling, you immediately think of the person you don’t want to become and you calm  down.

This is called learning by opposite. When someone is displaying a behavior you don’t like, you become more aware of what you want to do and who you want to become as you progress through life. Learning by opposite is very powerful. So, rather than let the difficult people frustrate you, see them as teachers who are helping to shape you into the person you want to become.Know when to walk away. During your workday, you have no choice but to deal with a difficult co-worker or boss. In fact, it is commonplace to have difficult people within the workplace. And no matter how difficult someone is, your boss won’t fire someone just because you don’t like him or her. In your home life, though, you can “fire” someone simply for being difficult. In fact, it’s your responsibility to make those tough choices of who is going to be a part of your life and who you’re going to remove.

Realize that if you decide to put some emotional and/or physical distance between you and a family member, this doesn't mean you don’t love each other. You can still care about someone deeply but choose not to interact with him or her as often as you had in the past. The key is to do what’s right for you. If it is good for you to remove yourself, it will be good for the other person too.

If someone constantly attacks your self-esteem and promotes added stress in your life, you have to decide whether that stress is acceptable. If it’s not, and if the person shows no sign of caring or changing, it’s up to you to keep yourself safe. Not feeling safe emotionally and mentally can be harmful and in certain instances even become life threatening. That means you need to remove the person from your life. Yes, others in your life may criticize you for this decision, but ultimately you have to take care of yourself and your emotional well-being first. 

Ditch the Difficulties.
Difficult relationships are a part of life. The key is how you choose to deal with them. Either you can let the difficult person control your life and make you miserable, or you can take responsibility, work for a resolution, make the tough choices and, ultimately, learn some lessons. As you think about the relationships in your life, remember that happiness is not always attainable, but peacefulness is. Therefore, aim for peaceful relationships rather than happy ones. The more peace and tranquillity you bring to yourself, the more peace you can offer to others.

Jill Cook-Richards is a life coach and counselor. She is a regular columnist for several magazines and has spoken to all types of companies, corporations and associations. She has also worked in television, radio and the movie industry. She is the author of the upcoming book, “How to Heal Any Relationship from A to Z.”

Salvation Army Events

News and Political Analyst Cokie Roberts will deliver the keynote address on Thursday, Nov. 11 at the Salvation Army’s Annual Luncheon. The gala event takes place at the Hilton Americas Hotel, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

With Election Day just one week prior to the luncheon, her observations will be particularly timely and intriguing. Roberts is the winner of three Emmys, as well as an inductee in  the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. She is considered one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting by the American Women in Radio and Television. Her 40-plus years in the world of media and current affairs promise an engaging and entertaining analysis of the dynamic political landscape in America. 

Chairing the annual luncheon are Maria and Neil Bush. Sponsor tables range from $3,000 to $25,000, and individual tickets are $150. To book your table or to purchase individual tickets, call 832-201-8026. 

Turkey Carving Contest
The Salvation Army will also hold the Ninth Annual Celebrity Pro-Am Turkey Carving Contest on November 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at One Allen Center. At this event, Houston’s top chefs partner with local celebrities to kick off the holiday season and compete to be the Turkey Carving Grand Champion. Tickets are $5 each, and proceeds support The Salvation Army Greater Houston  Area Command, which serves Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties. 

Red Kettle Kick-Off
Staff and volunteers of The Salvation Army will participate in a special celebration on Thursday, Nov. 26 (the day after Thanksgiving) at Tiffany & Co. in The Galleria. The party, slated from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., officially kicks off the Red Kettle Season. The Salvation Army has been in the Houston area for over 12 decades.

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