|Volume 7, Issue 1 · Friday, Jan. 9, 2009|
Combs to release biennial revenue estimate Monday
Amount determines how much legislators can spend on state budget
The most anticipated event prior to the convening Tuesday, Jan. 13, of the 81st Texas Legislature will take place Monday when State Comptroller Susan Combs (pictured) releases her biennial revenue estimate.
Combs will host a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Monday, at which time she will announce the amount of general revenue lawmakers will have available to appropriate as they craft the 2010-11 state budget. The press conference will be in Room 114 of the LBJ State Office Building in Austin.
While other states are coping with multi-million-dollar budget deficits, Texas is expected to go into its 140-day biennial legislative session that begins Tuesday with a surplus. The amount of the surplus has been estimated by some to be as much as $11 billion. Because Texas is a "balanced budget" state, it cannot operate at a deficit. Thus lawmaker cannot budget more funds than Combs announces are available in general revenue for appropriation.
Dr. Francisco Cigarroa named UT System chancellor
Dr. Francisco Cigarroa this morning was named chancellor of The University of Texas System. "He is, without doubt, the person most qualified and well suited to lead our 15 institutions to greater national and international prominence," said Regents' Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr., after regents approved the selection. Cigarroa, current president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, had previously announced he would be stepping down from that role and planned to return to practicing medicine. He was officially named the lone finalist for chancellor last month, but state law requires a 21-day waiting period before the job can officially be offered. Cigarroa, who will begin his duties Feb. 2, replaces former Chancellor Mark Yudof, who left the UT System last year to head up the University of California System.
Trans-Texas Corridor undergoes transformation
TxDOT even dropping name of oft-maligned transportation proposal
Back in 2002, the state unveiled its new vision for improving transportation in Texas. Dubbed the "Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC)," this soon-to-be controversial proposal for a transportation corridor of new and existing infrastructure led to new public/private partnerships and new tools for financing transportation projects. It was to include highways, toll roads and rail. But the public never embraced the proposed corridor.
This week at the fourth annual Texas Transportation Forum, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director Amadeo Saenz (pictured) rolled out the division's latest vision for the Trans-Texas Corridor, dubbed, Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009. Saenz said TxDOT both heard and responded to citizen input from throughout the state as public meetings were held regarding the TTC.
"Citizens across the state have had good ideas about how Texas roads can better serve Texas communities," he said. "I believe this transformed vision for the TTC and other major corridor development goes a long way toward addressing the concerns we've heard over the past several years."[more]
Sasha Wozniak Rasco, Director of Policy and Program Operations, Child Care Licensing, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Career highlights and education: I first developed a fascination for government as a U.S. Congressional Page in 1988. I wrote both an undergraduate and graduate thesis on child-care policy, finishing my Master's in Public Affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in 1996. I then accepted a Policy Fellowship with the Maryland Governor's Office of Child, Youth and Families, after which I returned home to work in the Child Care Licensing program at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, where I have happily worked for over 10 years. Highlights of my work in Child Care Licensing are the oversight of the major overhaul of all of the Texas Administrative Code rules, including minimum standards for child-care centers and the foster care, adoption and residential child care industry, as well as a complete revision of rules governing the restraint and seclusion of children and subsequent membership on the Hogg Foundation's Restraint and Seclusion Leadership Group. Finally, I recently had the honor of being appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the newly created Committee on Licensing Standards.
What I like best about my job is: Without hesitation, it is working with such caring and compassionate people, inside and outside of the agency, who are so committed to improving the lives of vulnerable citizens.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: Read and memorize your program's enabling statute understanding the statute illuminates the mission of the program, its power and limitations, the role of the legislature, and the areas where the department must flesh out the program with a workforce, with rules and policies and with performance measures in order to implement the program effectively and efficiently.
Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Read the statute! Then, stay focused on the mission of the program, be open and flexible to both changing expectations and changing practices, be ethical, work hard and do your best with both humility and a good sense of humor.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: In my real life: Taking one of my children to a doctor's appointment or attending my son's soccer game. In my fantasy life: reading a book at an outdoor cafe or taking a walk around Town Lake.
People would be surprised to know that I: belong to an international family with 16 cousins born and raised in four different countries which helps me be open to different perspectives and to appreciate and embrace diversity.
One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: There over one million children in regulated child-care and foster-care settings, and that parents and other interested citizens can research these child-care facilities and child-placing agencies at www.txchildcaresearch.org.
Each week, the Texas Government Insider profiles a key government executive or decision-maker. If you would like to suggest a "Lone Star," please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UTMB-Galveston opens 200 beds at John Sealy Hospital
Island officials ask legislature for help with storm-crippled economy
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has successfully opened 200 beds at John Sealy Hospital after two failed attempts. The opening marks the third such attempt since Hurricane Ike crashed ashore Sept. 13 of last year, causing air- and water-quality problems, including mold spores detected in operating rooms. Officials kept from trumpeting the latest opening event.
"We didn't want to risk disappointing people again," said Karen Sexton (left), interim executive vice president and CEO of Health Systems, adding they announced the decision internally "once we knew it was all systems go.'"
The hospital has also reopened its pediatrics unit, an acute care unit for elderly patients, a medical-surgical unit and transplant and critical-care services. The 32-bed Texas Department of Criminal Justice Hospital, where inmates receive medical care, reopened last October, along with the facility's obstetrics and neonatal units.
Just two days after John Sealy opened a scaled-down version of its pre-hurricane facility, officials from the city of Galveston testified before members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Ike and asked legislators for help as the city tries to dig out from the storm that crippled the Island's economy.
Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas (right) reminded members of the committee that following the deadly 1900 hurricane in Galveston, state officials voted to return to the city sales tax collected by the state. Thomas asked that the state do that again to help Galveston recover from Hurricane Ike.
Prior to the storm, the sales tax which stands at 8.25 percent in Galveston generated close to $16 million for the city from the 2 percent that is allocated to the city. City officials also have asked legislators for their support as funding is sought for transportation projects and repairs on the Island from the federal economic stimulus package.
Sales tax collection in state show growth
Texas collected $1.86 billion in sales tax revenue in December, up 2 percent compared to December 2007, according to figures released today, Friday, by State Comptroller Susan Combs. Tax collections have grown 3.9 percent for the first four months of fiscal year 2009.
The first checks of 2009 sent to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts totaled $459.2 million, up 2.4 percent compared to January 2008. January sales tax allocations of $309.9 million to Texas cities were up 2.2 percent compared to January 2008 while county sales tax payments of $29 million were up 8.2 percent compared to the same month last year. Another $18.3 million went to 148 special purpose taxing districts around the state and 10 local transit systems received $101.9 million in sales tax allocations. To view the allocations by city, click here. To view the allocations by county, click here.
Irvine new TDHCA deputy executive director
Tim Irvine (pictured), former administrator of the Texas Real Estate Commission and commissioner of the Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board, this week returned to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs as the department's deputy executive director. Irvine is a former executive director in the agency's Manufactured Housing Division.
As deputy executive director at TDHCA, Irvine will be the second-highest executive in the department and have oversight of state and federal programs administered by TDHCA that include first-time homebuyer programs, housing initiatives, disaster recovery assistance and weatherization.
In addition to being a licensed attorney, Irvine has more than 30 years of experience in the housing and real estate industries. "One of Tim's strongest assets, which he put to good use at both the Manufactured Housing Division and the Real Estate Commission, is his ability to use his legal background to find ways to streamline processes. Tim knows that our top priority is getting housing built and expanding opportunities for low income Texans," said Michael Gerber, TDHCA executive director. Irvine holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College, Claremont Graduate University and Willamette University.
Keller leaves House for vice provost position at UT
One of House Speaker Tom Craddick's top lieutenants, Harrison Keller (pictured), is headed for greener pastures. Keller, Craddick's top education policy advisor, will today become vice provost for higher education policy and research at The University of Texas at Austin.
Keller's move from the State Capitol to the UT campus apparently was not related to Craddick's decision not to seek re-election as Speaker when another candidate last week announced enough pledged to unseat Craddick.
Hurricane-affected communities vie for $1.3B in funds
Texas communities that suffered damages from Hurricanes Dolly and Ike in 2008 recently provided input on the Plan for Disaster Recovery proposed by the state's Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA). The document outlines how ORCA proposes that the $1.3 billion in federal disaster recovery funding should be allocated to meet critical economic development and housing needs in those communities.
ORCA held hearings last month in Houston, Harlingen and Beaumont, with the period for public comment ending earlier this week. The proposal now will go to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval. The original ORCA proposal calls for the bulk of the funding - some $814 million - to go to the Houston-Galveston Area Council. ORCA officials note that their allocations to regional Councils of Governments are based on county damage assessments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The funds will be used for public infrastructure restoration, economic development and housing and will flow to the state through HUD Community Development Block Grants.
TDHCA unveils revamped, user-friendly Web site
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) has unveiled its redesigned Web site. The revamped site provides dedicated content sections based on target audience profiles and needs.
The site, according to TDHCA Executive Director Michael Gerber (pictured), "is one of the first places that Texans visit when they need to find affordable housing, rental assistance or help paying utility bills."
The new site will take users to the information that best serves their interests more quickly and efficiently, Gerber said.
New director named to disaster-recovery panel
Ellen Witt has been selected to replace Brian Newby as director of the Division of Disaster Recovery and Renewal within the Office of the Governor. The advisory panel comprised of public and private sector experts will plan the state's long-term recovery and renewal efforts in the wake of Texas' devastating 2008 hurricane season.
In addition to serving as the general counsel for the Texas Department of Agriculture, Witt has also served as deputy attorney general for legal counsel in the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, where she offered legal counsel to state, county and municipal officials.
Witt holds a bachelor's degree and a law degree from The University of Texas at Austin.
Smith named Tech provost, senior vice president
Robert Smith (pictured), University of Arkansas provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs emeritus, has been named provost and senior vice president of Texas Tech University, effective Feb. 1. The announcement was made by Texas Tech President Guy Bailey.
Smith will serve as Tech's chief academic officer and oversee all educational components and activities, including research and academic personnel.
Smith joined the University of Arkansas in 2000. He previously served as vice provost for research and graduate education and dean of the Graduate School at the University of Connecticut and vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at Washington State University. Smith also was on faculty at The University of Texas and the University of Iowa. He holds a bachelor's degree from St. John's University, Jamaica, N.Y., and his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan.
Texas Education Agency unveils revamped Web site
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has unveiled its newly revamped Web site. The redesigned site features an enhanced search engine, standardized text for persons with disabilities, more concise Help features and topic-organized portals for administrators, teachers and TEA business associates.
To smooth the transition, a link will be provided to the site's old, familiar home page. If a "Page Not Found" message appears during navigation, change the URL address from "www.tea" to "ritter.tea."
TEA welcomes any feedback or questions about the new Web site. E-mail email@example.com for more information.
Bush School selects Cocanougher as interim dean
Officials of Texas A&M University's Bush School of Government and Public Service recently selected Benton Cocanougher (pictured) as the interim dean.
Cocanougher, who headed A&M's business school, steps in for Dick Chilcoat, who resigned as dean of the 500-student graduate school after serving in that post for seven years. Chilcoat cited health problems as the reason for stepping down as dean and plans to remain on the faculty as an executive professor.
A former chair of the board of regents of the Texas A&M University System, Don Powell, will chair the search for a permanent dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service. The Bush School was founded as an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts in 1995 and in 2000 became a free-standing academic college.
Cocanougher served as dean of the Mays Business School from 1987 to 2001, as interim chancellor of the Texas A&M University System from September 2003 to October 2004, and as interim senior vice president and provost in 1993 and 1994. He has a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin.
FEMA allocates $73M to UTMB-Galveston for damages
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced it will grant $73 million to The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston for damages wreaked by Hurricane Ike. The funds will target UTMB's most pressing recovery needs. FEMA waived the normal documentation process to respond to the damages.
The storm cost UTMB approximately $700 million in damages and lost revenue - $100 million of which will be covered by insurance. About 750,000 square feet of the facility's ground floor was flooded, damaging equipment, heating and air conditioning units and wiring. An additional $71 million from FEMA is expected to cover the cost of those repairs.
As a result of the setback, some 3,800 employees could be laid off, UTMB officials announced in November.
Feldman appointed chair of ophthalmology department
Robert M. Feldman, M.D. (pictured), has been named chairman of the Richard S. Ruiz, M.D. Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. In addition to supervising the clinical practice at the department, Feldman - a pioneer and expert in the treatment of glaucoma and other degenerative eye disorders - will oversee the clinical, educational and research endeavors of fellows, faculty members and residents.
Feldman joined UT Medical School as a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology in 1995 and has since been recognized for achievements in both teaching and research. He has received the Honor's Convocation Dean's Excellence Award three times. Former Houston Mayor Lee Brown presented Feldman with a Community Service Award for his community glaucoma awareness.
Feldman holds a medical degree from Chicago Medical School. He completed his ophthalmology residency at the University of California-San Diego in 1992 before obtaining a glaucoma research fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine the following year.
Bill filed to make sales tax deduction permanent
In a measure that would save Texas taxpayers $1.2 billion a year, lawmakers have filed bills in the U.S. House and Senate that would make permanent a federal deduction of sales tax for those filing in states without an income tax such as Texas. On average the deduction would save each filer $520, according to the comptroller's office.
Lawmakers in other states that do not levy individual state income taxes - including Alaska, South Dakota, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, Washington and Wyoming - claim it is unfair their residents do not receive a permanent federal deduction, even though the states collect revenue from sales taxes. Lawmakers from those states have favored a permanent extension of the sales tax reduction also.
The current extension of the deduction lasts through this year.
Stock market collapse may affect textbook availability
An investment fund used to buy textbooks and give school districts up to $300 per student has collapsed amid the current economic crisis, losing billions of dollars.
State budget writers were counting on $1.2 billion from the fund for the next two years. The availability of new reading books for elementary, middle and high school students is at stake. Without investment income, lawmakers would have to rely on scarce general revenue to pay for the textbooks.
The board has considered alternative ways of allocating the money - for example, sending the state a lump sum at the end of the two-year budget cycle instead of making monthly allocations. The value of the fund would have to increase significantly within that time, however.
NCTCOG hosts open house, public meetings
The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) of the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) hosted an open house and three public meetings this week. The meetings were designed so residents could learn what is happening with transportation and help to set future priorities.
Scheduled meeting topics included:
The Mobility 2030 meeting concerned a long-range metropolitan transportation plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The TIP meeting included a multi-year listing of transportation projects proposed for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and the Air Quality Conformity meeting addressed counties classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as non-attainment for the pollutant ozone, including Collin, Dallas, Denton, Parker, Rockwall and Tarrant.
UTPA officials scout locations in McAllen for grad campus
Hoping to establish a graduate center, officials at The University of Texas-Pan American are scouting locations in McAllen for the new facility. The move would allow residents in the southern part of the county easier access to advanced-level classes. Though a definitive curriculum has not been determined, programs in education, business and engineering look like early contenders for the McAllen campus' offerings.
McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez (pictured) said the closer the facility is to those who need access to higher education, "the more likely people are to take advantage of it." He added that establishing a graduate-level center in McAllen would also attract potential residents and employers.
It's uncertain whether the school will be built or if a space near Main Street and Expressway 83 will be leased to house the facility.
Galveston police, firefighters agree to 3 percent pay cut
To avoid layoffs, Galveston police and firefighters' unions have agreed to take a 3 percent pay cut, saving their departments a combined $600,000. The cut stems from continuing financial constraints wrought by Hurricane Ike, which devastated homes and business in the area in September.
City Manager Steve LeBlanc estimated a 30 percent decrease in property tax value and a 10 percent drop in sales tax revenue as a result of the storm. The $3.6 million budget shortfall prompted the police and firefighter unions to give up pay raises they were given in October.
"The vast majority of our budget is operational," LeBlanc said. City leaders are hoping the pay cut will prevent layoffs once the unions' vote is approved by city officials and factored in the budget.
Brownsville superintendent asks for consulting position
The Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees this week rejected the offer of BISD Superintendent Hector Gonzales (pictured) to resign and continue with the district as a consultant. With the vote not to accept the resignation, Gonzalez will continue to serve as superintendent under his current two-year contract.
Under the proposal, the special consultant contract and benefits would have expired Dec. 31; Gonzales' rate of pay would remain the same. He would have worked from home and reported to the superintendent as needed.
Gonzales has spent 28 years in education as a superintendent, administrator and teacher at districts across South Texas. He holds a bachelor's degree from Texas A&I University in Kingsville and a master's degree from Corpus Christi State University. He obtained his superintendent certification from The University of Texas-Pan American.
Texas teachers recognized for national teaching award
Five Texas teachers have been named final contenders for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). Kindergarten through sixth grade teachers whose innovative methods and challenging standards distinguish them from their peers will be honored.
Finalists for the award include: Amanda Santana, an elementary science teacher at The Rice School in Houston; Candy Ellard, a fifth-grade teacher at Pillow Elementary School in Austin; Barbara Kelly, former elementary teacher at Cannon Elementary in Grapevine-Colley Independent School District; Amy Sample-Pence of Plano, a fifth grade teacher at Rainwater Elementary School in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD; and Heather Villaloboz, a third-grade teacher at E.C. Mason Elementary School in Alvin ISD.
Under the direction of the White House, the National Science Foundation approved the candidates as finalists for the award. The national winner will receive $10,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C., where they will be recognized by the president at the United States Capitol.
City of Dallas opens employee medical clinic at City Hall
The City of Dallas has opened an employee medical clinic on the first floor of City Hall, providing medical services to some 30,000 city staff, their dependents and retirees. Services include urgent, acute and preventive care, and are provided free of charge to all city health insurance plan members. A minimum fee will be charged to employees who are not plan members.
Dallas City Manager Mary K. Suhm said the city is committed to "improving the health and well-being of its employees by providing convenient access to medical services."
The clinic - staffed by a physician, mid-level practitioner and/or a medical assistant or licensed vocational nurse - is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Galveston County to begin hospital district talks
Galveston County commissioners are preparing for discussions about creating a hospital taxing district that would cover health care costs for some of the county's working poor.
County Judge Jim Yarbrough (pictured) said the county may give voters the chance to approve a hospital district capable of charging county residents a maximum of 9 cents per $100 valuation to pay for care for those with income below the federal poverty level. The hospital of a patient's choice, in turn, would be reimbursed from the taxing district.
Although hospital districts are typically funded through property taxes, some commissioners are holding out hope Galveston County could get permission from the legislature to increase local sales tax to cover costs.
Fort Worth to upgrade traffic light technology
Fort Worth city officials recently approved a $2 million project to control 300 traffic lights to improve traffic flow. The city will install new equipment to connect 300 traffic lights to a city transportation center, said Russ Wiles, manager of the project for the city's transportation and public works department. The city has about 700 traffic signs.
The new technology allows city officials to correct timing problems immediately if a light begins blinking or freezes and will also coordinate with 130 signs in the downtown area that are linked to the transportation center through high speed connections. Funds from a 2004 bond package will pay for 40 percent, or $820,000, of the project and federal funds will pay the remaining 60 percent of the $2 million cost. The project is expected to begin in late winter or early spring and be completed by the end of 2009, Wiles said.
HUD allocates $2.27M to Texas public housing agencies
Public housing agencies in Texas are set to receive $2.27 million out of $49 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to agency Secretary Steve Patterson.
The grants, funded through HUD's Housing Choice Voucher Family Self-Sufficiency Program, allow public housing agencies to work with welfare agencies, schools, businesses and other local partners to assist and prepare individuals to obtain a job that pays a living wage. Participants in the program sign a contract claiming the head of the household will get a job that will no longer require the family to receive welfare assistance within a five-year period.
Entities in Texas receiving funding included: Housing Authority of the City of El Paso, $106,612; Housing Authority of the City of Fort Worth, $43,946; The Housing Authority of the City of Dallas, TX (DHA), $368,647; Housing Authority of the City of Waco, $72,465; Housing Authority of the City of Lubbock, $39,000; Housing Authority of the City of Plano, $35,028; Tarrant County, $107,692; Housing Authority of the City of Arlington, $106,330; City of Garland Housing Agency, $50,355; Housing Authority of the City of Anthony, $37,245; City of Longview Housing Authority, $46,609; Housing Authority of The City of San Angelo, $48,863; City of Amarillo, $35,300; South Plains Regional Housing Authority, $33,766; Midland County Housing Authority, $41,629; Texoma Council of Governments, $60,828; Houston Housing Authority, $89,784; Galveston Housing Authority, $108,754; Housing Authority of the City Of Beaumont, $80,542; Walker County Housing Authority, $45,000; Deep East Texas Council of Governments, $71,002; Housing Authority of the City Of Austin, $128,704; San Antonio Housing Authority, $97,853; Housing Authority of the City of Brownsville, $83,868; Laredo Housing Authority, $44,608; Mission Housing Authority, $62,023; Housing Authority of the City of Pharr, $59,600; San Marcos Housing Authority, $50,250; Housing Authority of the City of Kingsville, $53,744; Housing Authority of the City of Port Isabel, $25,757; Housing Authority of the County of Hidalgo, $37,091.
Feeding meters no longer allowed in Houston
The City of Houston is about to impose equal opportunity parking meters. City officials this week made it illegal to feed parking meters in the city, enforcing a strict limit on how long a vehicle can stay parked in a metered spot. Any vehicle parked in a metered spot longer than allowed by the time limit posted on the meter will be ticketed.
Liliana Rambo (pictured), director of parking management for the city, said the change was necessary to "create turnover" in parking spots in heavy-use areas such as around the courthouse, sports stadiums, restaurants and retail stores. Even motorists who pay for additional time on their meters will be ticketed. Tickets for exceeding the time limit will carry a fine of $25.
University of Dallas receives grant for mentor program
The Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation has granted $31,000 to the University of Dallas to support its Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), which involves students with prisoner participants to develop skills, attitudes and work ethics that will keep them off the street.
The gift will allow student and faculty to travel to the Cleveland Prison unit for personal mentoring with inmates and for classes for former inmates returning to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The PEP is designed to help incarcerated men with less than a year remaining in their prison term devise their own business plan by involving the nation's top business and academic talent.
John Watters, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at UD, said the grant will "have a lasting impact on the prisoners served through the program."
Fort Bend CAD unveils plans for new office in Rosenberg
Glen Whitehead, chief appraiser for the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District, recently unveiled plans for a new $6.2 million building to be located on the west side of Rosenberg.
Speaking to the Rosenberg City Council, Whitehead said the district has outgrown its current 18,000-square-foot building and needs the new facility to handle the increased traffic caused by more taxpayers who protest their tax assessment.
The proposed building would have 33,000 square feet and would allow the district to consolidate storage in one facility. Whitehead reported he had considered remodeling two former retail stores, but that neither location considered met the district's needs. He expects to send a proposed resolution containing the proposed purchase price for the tract of land and the construction costs for the facility and hopes to have approval from all jurisdictions within the district by April. Construction on the new facility would most likely not begin until early 2010, Whitehead said.
Missouri City to begin city hall renovation
Citing lessons learned from Hurricane Ike, Missouri City plans to renovate its city hall to centralize technology operations in a hardened facility resistant to hurricane damage, said Assistant City Manager Bill Atkinson (pictured).
In the first phase of construction estimated to cost about $140,000, the council chamber will be moved to the first floor to allow more seating and public participation. The information technology department will be moved from city hall to the public safety complex, where emergency operations are centered, Atkinson said.
The city plans to seek bids this spring to renovate the Emergency Operations Center to house the information technology department and to complete the project by early summer, he said. City officials plan to ask for bids in the summer for renovating the current city hall and relocating council chambers. That project is expected to cost about $1.6 million.
Galveston to receive $3M grant for beach reconstruction
The Texas General Land Office recently agreed to provide $3 million for beach reconstruction in front of the Galveston seawall. The grant will require the Galveston Park Board of Trustees to provide another $1 million to match the state grant. The Land Office is willing to consider in-kind work as part of the city's contribution, said Jim Suydam, a spokesman for the General Land Office.
Hurricane Ike swept away most of the sand in front of the seawall. New sand is needed not only to protect tourists, Suydam said, but also for protection of the seawall because an older portion of the seawall is built on wood pilings that officials fear would rot if more erosion exposes them to the tide. Once the beach restoration is completed, the beach will be about 70 feet wide between 16th Street and 60th Street, he said.
Two areas of the beach, one near Fort Crockett Park and another near the Flagship Hotel, will be skipped as storm debris still needs to be sifted out of the sand in those areas. The project should be finished by fall 2009.
Coastal leaders urge reopening of UTMB trauma center
Leaders of several Gulf Coast petrochemical companies and hospitals recently urged state leaders to restore the trauma center at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to a Level 1 trauma center.
The absence of a Level 1 trauma center is a serious concern for all residents of the region, but is especially critical where industrial disasters can cause mass casualties, said Keith Casey, a business unit leader at a refinery in Texas City. Any workers injured in an emergency would have to be transported to Houston, which could cost lives because of the increased time to transport critically injured patients, he said. During the past three years, the UTMB emergency room has treated about 60,000 patients a year, with about 10,000 patients with injuries. Of these, 800 were work-related injuries, said UTMB officials. Hurricane Ike caused about $710 million in unbudgeted expenses for UTMB, which has laid off about 3,000 employees since the hurricane hit the area.
The only remaining Level 1 trauma centers are at Memorial Hermann Hospital and Ben Taub General Hospital, which has no helicopter landing pads. The trauma center at Ben Taub is already very busy and accepting more emergency patients from another county is a major concern, said David Lopez, the chief executive officer for Ben Taub Hospital. A Level 1 trauma center is needed for every 1 million people in a region and the Houston area now has only two Level 1 trauma centers for the 4 million people now being served.
Lamar cadets take plunge into firefighting training
Not everything students learn at Lamar Institute of Technology (LIT) is in a structured classroom setting. Some students participate in the university's 15-week Regional Fire Training Academy to learn the basic knowledge for a career in municipal firefighting. Cadets recently showed off their skills (pictured with instructors) at the Beaumont Emergency Services Training complex, one of the final steps in their firefighting training at LIT. The students, assisted by the Lumberton Volunteer Fire Department, fought fires that replicated blazes they might see in an industrial setting, said Will Lyons, chair of LIT's Department of Public Service and Safety. Fire trucks from the Port Arthur and Beaumont fire departments and firefighters from those cities stood by, ready to assist, Lyons said.
Cadets learn very quickly the amount of endurance it takes to fight the blaze with a fire hose disbursing water. For many, it is a natural instinct to walk or run away from a fire, but firefighters learn to do the opposite. During the simulations, visitors could feel the heat from yards away. The cadets, dressed in fire-proof gear, attacked the fire head on - ignoring the intense heat.
Cadet Robert Green of Groves who currently works at the Jefferson County Airport, said he decided to pursue firefighting because he wanted to have a job he was proud of. "I feel that way about firefighting." Veteran firefighters see the new cadets as up-and-comers who can take over for other firefighters who are aging. "We need new cadets to step in.," said Scott Young of the Beaumont Fire Department. For information on the fire academy, contact Lyons at (409) 839-2968.
Round Rock receives $233,000 federal grant
The Round Rock City Council recently accepted a $233,322 grant from the Texas Homeland Security Grant Program. The grant will be used to hire and equip an analyst to work in an intelligence fusion center under development by a regional partnership headed by the city of Austin. The fusion center is a multi-agency $1.8 million information and intelligence sharing facility that will help regional law enforcement agencies more easily share information about crimes and any terrorist threats, said Rick White of the Round Rock Police Department. Austin and Round Rock were added in 2008 to a federal list of cities considered to be at high risk of a terrorist attack.
The Round Rock Fire Department also will receive $469,367 from the State Homeland Security Program to buy a portable gas and vapor identifier to use in responding to chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear and explosive incidents that will be available to other entities in major incidents.
DHS grants Travis sheriff funds for fusion center
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has allocated $150,000 to the Travis County Sheriff's Office to create the Austin Area Fusion Center. Captain Art Cardenas (pictured) said criminals "will be taken off the street, and our communities will be safer" as a result of the initiative, which will allow law enforcement agencies to share information about suspicious or criminal activity.
Fusion centers began popping up around the country in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, but Cardenas said his department is more concerned with gathering information about local criminals. The centers have prompted criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, whose members are concerned about the lack of a checks and balances system.
The Austin Area Fusion Center is slated to be up and running in the next 10 months. Participants will include the Williamson and Hays County Sheriff's Departments, the Round Rock Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Brownsville to build $67M seawater desalination project
The Brownsville Public Utility Board (BPUB) recently agreed to build a new $67 million seawater desalinization plant to treat 2.5 million gallons of water per day to eventually supply 9 percent of drinking water in the board's service area. Building a demonstration facility first will help save funds and build support for a full-sized project as it will serve as infrastructure for a large-scale facility, said Bill Norris, a consulting engineer. While several desalination plants that treat ground water are operating in several cities and states, the proposed pilot plant in Brownsville will be the first seawater desalination plant in Texas and one of only a few in the United States, Norris said. A small pilot plant project helped operators improve the method for removing sediments and contaminants from ship channel water, he said. Eventually the board plans to increase capacity at the desalination plant to 25 million gallons per day. The cost of building a seawater desalination plant is much higher than building a groundwater desalination plant.
BPUB's demonstration facility would treat 2.5 million gallons of seawater per day after its completion in 2012 and eventually will provide 9 percent of the drinking water in the board's service area, according to BPUB officials. Finding an alternative to using water from the Rio Grande River is imperative as state environmental officials say that all water in the river is already appropriated to a city, a water utility, an irrigator or landowner. Jorge Arroyo of the Innovative Water Technologies program of the Texas Water Development Board said Texas will need 3.7 million acre feet of new water by 2010 and nearly 9 million acre feet by 2060. The Laguna Madre Water District on South Padre Island also has opened its own seawater desalination plant that will remain operational until April 2009, said the water district's general manager.
Midlothian ISD ponders future facility needs
Trustees for the Midlothian Independent School District met with bankers, architects and a demographer to find solutions to the district's facilities needs. Superintendent Dr. J.D. Kennedy (pictured) said the group discussed how to address growth and to pay for facilities needed to accommodate that growth.
Trustees discussed adding a second high school, a new middle school, a new elementary school and new baseball and softball facilities, but scaled back some plans to reduce costs. A scaled-down 192,000-square-foot high school building to house 1,000 students would cost about $77.7 million. Even though the current economy may have slowed growth, several district schools, including an elementary and Midlothian High School, most likely will reach capacity as early as 2012, the demographer reported. Designing and building a new school usually takes between 18 months and two years, the superintendent said.
Midlothian ISD would only be able to issue $122.47 million in bonds before it has to pull money out of its reserve funds to service the bonds, the district's banker advised. The volatility of the banking market makes it difficult to predict where interest rates will be at the time of a bond sale or how the interest rate would affect bond prices, he said. The district's architect urged trustees to pay for a master plan for a two-phase project for the high school so voters could see what the final product would look like. Taxpayers in 2007 rejected a $98.8 million bond proposal to build a second high school and another $1.7 proposition to pay for new sites for schools.
Industrial expansion spurs Port Arthur port growth
Several industrial expansion projects that spurred growth at the port of Port Arthur are expected to continue during 2009, according to Floyd Gaspard, the port's director. The port saw increases in cargo and revenue last year. One refinery brought in equipment and supplies for a $7 billion expansion project and two more refinery expansion projects are under way at two other area refineries, Gaspard said.
While the port has seen a slowdown in military cargo, at least one military ship is scheduled to arrive during the first quarter of the year, and Port Arthur will continue to serve as the military overflow for the port of Beaumont. The port also played a roll in a documentary film about the ship, The Jumbo Fairplay, which recently unloaded cargo in late 2008.
Dallas named to EPA's Green Power Leaders Club
The city of Dallas has been named to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Green Power Leadership Club because the city exceeded EPA minimum green power purchase requirements. Membership in the club requires entities to purchase at least 10 times the partnership's minimum requirement organization-wide.
"Purchasing green power helps our organization become more sustainable, while also sending a message to others across the U.S. that supporting clean sources of electricity is a sound business decision and an important choice in reducing climate risk," said Dallas City Manager Mary K. Suhm. During all four quarters of 2008, Dallas ranked among the EPA's largest green purchasers - on the Top 10 Local Governments List and the National Top 25 List. The city was first on the local list two of the four quarters and in second place in the other two quarters. The rankings are based on kilowatt-hour purchases. Dallas purchases more than 330 million kilowatt-hours of green power, or 40 percent of its purchased electricity use.
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Lawmakers face busy 140-day legislative session
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
In just four days, the population of Austin will explode! The 81st Legislature will convene at noon Jan. 13, and the upcoming session has already generated a huge amount of controversy, anticipation and genuine interest.
There will be new faces in the Texas House and Senate and a new Speaker will preside over the House of Representatives. Some committee chairs may remain the same, but there is much speculation about changes that may be announced.
It will be a busy 140 days. This biennial legislative session runs Jan. 13 through June 1. During the last legislative session, 10,990 House and Senate bills and resolutions were introduced, however, only 5,900 passed. Fifty-four of those were later vetoed.
As of this morning, more than 1,000 House and Senate bills and resolutions had already been pre-filed.[more]
Corsicana acquires site for fire station, sports fields
Corsicana city officials recently accepted the donation of a 1.7-acre site to add to another 40 acres the city purchased in December for a new fire station, fire training facility and two baseball fields.
Mayor C.L. "Buster" Brown (pictured) said the new fire station is needed to more evenly distribute fire protection in the city. Voters in November 2006 approved $6.5 million in bonds for a new fire station, a fire training facility and new fire trucks. The Community Foundation also contributed $150,000 to pay for the two baseball fields that will share the site with the new fire department facilities.
Red Oak names Kelty
DIR plans e-Learning forum for agencies, universities
A free one-day e-Learning Forum for Texas state agencies and universities only will be held Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Commons Center of the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in Austin. Sponsored by the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), the conference's goal is to share information on what is happening in the industry and specifically in Texas government. Potential topics include tools and trends in e-learning, case studies of successful government e-learning projects with speakers profiling different implementation styles such as simplistic modules requiring little specialized expertise, successfully deploying a subscription-based learning course library, extensive custom development, Web 2.0 and e-learning, collaboration of the IT and training departments and lessons learned and best practices. To register, click here.
'Putting America Back to Work' conference planned
The Texas Workforce Commission will host its "Putting America Back to Work" conference on Jan. 15 and 16, 2009, at the Omni Austin Hotel at Southpark. The two-day conference topics include: The Texas Economic Model, Lessening our Dependency on Foreign Energy, Rebuilding Our Manufacturing Base and Challenges of our Business Tax Structure. Among the confirmed speakers are former Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson and Barry Smitherman, chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. For a registration form and agenda, click here.