Archive for July 28th, 2014

Not Yet, Whiners

The Mayor is contemplating sticking us with a garbage fee. There is a budget shortfall on the horizon and I guess she needs to cover her bases so to speak. I don’t know if we are ready for another fee. In 2010 we voted ourselves a drainage fee for infrastructure and so far the city hasn’t really made the case that infrastructure progress is being made. They need to make the case that the drainage fee is working just fine and our streets are getting better. They need better PR on this.

The other thing is I don’t think the votes are there on City Council for a garbage fee. It doesn’t help when The Mayor refers to City Council as whiners – SEE BELOW. Oh, well.

Jose Altuve now has 148 base hits. Who led the team in base hits last season and with how many?

Here is the Chron front page article on the garbage fee.

For years, Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department Director Harry Hayes has suggested the city implement a garbage fee to expand curbside recycling and pay for other initiatives. And for years, Mayor Annise Parker has demurred.

Now, with a looming budget deficit that could force widespread layoffs and cuts to services, the idea may see serious discussion at the council table for the first time.

Though Parker has not endorsed any particular path, she acknowledges a garbage fee is among the most important of the dozens of ideas officials are considering as they try to close a $150 million budget gap by next summer.

Parker said she understands the fee would be a tough sell for residents, just as persuading voters to amend a cap they placed on city revenues a decade ago – expected to carve millions from next year’s budget – would be difficult.

The mayor said she could ask voters to amend the cap to accommodate needed services, including waste pickup, or could let the cap force a cut in the property tax rate and impose a garbage fee instead, explaining to voters why it is necessary.

“I’ve been successful having those conversations on water-sewer rates, on streets and drainage, and now I’m going to have a conversation about this area, too,” Parker said, referencing a 2010 water rate increase and the drainage fee imposed by the voter-approved ReBuild Houston program. “We’re going to lay all that out and council will whine about it, and then I’ll put forward a position so they can attack it, and then we’ll actually get somewhere.”

Imposing such a fee, Parker added, would be about more than revenue.

“A garbage fee actually allows us better control over the waste stream and how we incentivize people to recycle,” she said. “There are benefits there.”

For Hayes’ part, he said he has “been like the North Star on this,” pushing roughly the same fee for the same reasons for six years, always reminding council members that Houston is one of the only major cities in the country, and the only one in Texas, without a garbage fee.

“I have consistently stated the same things to both mayors, who have both been huge recycling advocates, and the same thing to all the council members,” Hayes said. “If you’re asking me what to do and I’m your appointed and confirmed expert, here’s what we should do as a best practice in this particular city business.”

The fee Hayes has pitched – $3.76 a month or $45.12 per home per year – would ensure recycling trucks and containers are replaced on time and without taking on too much debt, would deploy officers to better enforce rules against illegal dumping, and would add neighborhood depository sites.

Other examples

Hayes said any broader proposal in line with what other Texas cities charge would be designed to generate enough revenue to cover his department’s $76 million budget, removing waste operations from the tax-supported general fund entirely. Such a fee in Houston, Hayes said, would be $15 to $20 a month per home, or $180 to $240 a year.

Using fees for 96-gallon bins, the type Houston distributes, Dallas charges residents about $21.92 a month, San Antonio $17.69 to $19.93, Fort Worth $22.75, Austin $33.50 and El Paso $16. Austin also levies a monthly $6.65 fee that funds other waste operations.

“I don’t suspect a $20 monthly fee would sit well with anyone, but a $3, $3.75 monthly garbage fee? Perfectly reasonable,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. “If you’re going to do anything in the way of raising fees, this might be the one to do it. It’s a service everybody uses, and this is a department and an operation people are happy with. They get high positive ratings.”

Hayes is confident a fee on par with other cities will be among the options discussed but said he is mulling the idea and has not pitched it to council members. Still, he said, the discussion always has hinged on the mood of council, which he said has shifted over time.

“Council members, obviously, will look at this a lot more seriously, for those that haven’t or may have been middle-of-the-road, given what we have to face in the future,” Hayes said. “We have to look at everything.”

Being the oddball

Councilman David Robinson said passing a larger fee almost surely would be impossible and said even the smaller amount would be difficult.

“You can make the case, as Mr. Hayes has done, that we’re the oddball out, but I bet there’s going to be pretty big pushback on that,” Robinson said. “He alluded to the broader truth, which are the fiscal problems we’re having. It does leave us with some pretty tough choices.”

The oddball argument was unconvincing to Councilman C.O. Bradford.

“When you look at business magazines, trade publications, economic forecasts, Houston is separate,” he said. “Houston is doing much better than those other cities because we do things differently. We don’t have to do it just because other cities are doing it.”

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said an informal survey of civic clubs in her district last year showed general support for the $3.76 monthly fee.

“People were willing to consider that,” she said. “For me, we have serious issues ahead, and I think everything should be on the table for the purpose of talking about it.”

Councilman Dwight Boykins said he is supportive of the garbage fee concept but is far more comfortable with the lower amount than leaving a $15 to $20 monthly fee in place indefinitely, particularly for low-income residents.

Councilmen Larry Green and Jerry Davis are against the idea, saying constituent surveys have found more opposed than in favor.

Green said residents cannot afford another fee on top of the ReBuild Houston drainage fee and ever-increasing water rates, which the 2010 changes tied to inflation.

“The citizens, they hear about a big deficit, but it’s up to us and the administration to figure out how we balance that,” Davis said. “All they want to know is ‘I don’t want my taxes raised.’ I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but right now, I don’t think this is the answer.”

Answering critics

Hayes said he has heard this response at plenty of civic clubs.

“Our general counter is we’re talking about quality of life, clean communities, regardless of where you live,” Hayes said. “Citizens demand and deserve many more services that we just can’t pay for.”

Stein said garbage fee foes typically are low- to moderate-income households, adding the timing is not ideal following only a few years after the imposition of a drainage fee. However, Stein said, many of the people moving to Houston want more services.

“It doesn’t look very attractive. It’s a tax increase,” he said. “But do any of these council members have any other ideas? Tell me the other choices they have to raise that money.”

Speaking of whiners, some on the team were not too happy that last year’s top draft pick Mark Appel dropped by The Yard yesterday to throw a bullpen session. It has something to do with violating the so called unwritten rules of baseball. I hate to say this but I think the ‘Stros are a dysfunctional organization these days. The front office, the Skipper, the team – you name it. About the only ones that are worth watching are Altuve and Orbit. Here is the Chron article on the latest dysfunctionalism:

In a sport that prides itself on being a meritocracy that requires bonus babies and 30th-round guys to all pay their dues, Mark Appel’s presence at Minute Maid Park on Sunday and his promotion to Class AA Corpus Christi created a stir in the Astros’ clubhouse.

“Unbelievable,” one Astros said. “I’m not in a good mood.”

A few minutes later, another Astro approached a reporter to offer his thoughts while the media waited to speak with farm director Quinton McCracken and manager Bo Porter in the home dugout.

“So now you get rewarded for having an 11 ERA? And you have two guys down there (at Class A Lancaster) with 2 ERAs who can’t get called up?” the Astros player said on the condition of anonymity, alluding to Appel’s ERA and lefthander Josh Hader’s superb season at Lancaster.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who set up Appel’s bullpen, did not respond to multiple requests to comment on Appel’s visit or his players’ feelings.

Appel, who was given a $6.35 million bonus last year after he was taken first overall in the 2013 draft after his senior season at Stanford, was promoted to Class AA Corpus Christi despite a 2-5 record and 9.74 ERA over 12 starts and 44 1/3 innings. Hader is 9-1 with a 2.46 ERA.

Appel threw his bullpen session under the supervision of Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. Unlike most pitchers, however, he was walked back to the clubhouse through the back of the stadium instead of the dugout entrance, keeping him away from the media.

Without discussing Appel by name, Astros manager Bo Porter was clearly aware about the resentment in his clubhouse before the final game of a three-game series against the Marlins.

“Any time something affects your clubhouse, I think as the manager you have to handle it,” he said. “I will handle it internally. It’s unfortunate that they have been put in that position. But as the manager I will handle it internally.”

Pressed a bit more about baseball’s meritocracy, Porter appeared to at least understand his players’ feelings.

“When you talk about earning a right to be here, I think it’s something again that’s a well known fact in baseball that I think that everyone does everything they can to abide by,” Porter said. “But at the same time I’m not going to speak for the feelings of the people that probably were offended.

“But at the same time I will handle those conversations internally with our players, allow them to speak their minds and I will address it accordingly.”

McCracken, 43, didn’t seem surprised by the outcry. He spent 12 years in the major leagues and remains highly respected around the game because of the way he played and handled himself.

He urges players to not be concerned with which players do or don’t deserve promotions.

“You can’t get caught up in that,” he said. “We’ll relay that to them, and they shouldn’t get caught up in that. And the same applies to our big leaguers. They need to focus on the job at hand, which is coming out here and helping us win games.

“Getting caught up with what a minor league player does shouldn’t affect them. They’re professionals. They’re getting paid handsomely to do a job and we expect them to go out there and do a job.”

When I say dysfunctional I am being kind if you know what I mean.

Altuve of course led the team last year with 177 hits.

The team doesn’t have any leadership. The Skipper seems lost. That’s why we got swept by the Fish this past weekend and now the best team in MLB is in town for three – have mercy!

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