Volume 20, Issue 2 - Friday, January 14, 2022
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc.
City officials, for years, have struggled to find ways to provide more affordable housing options for residents, and now funding for these efforts is more available than ever. One funding source that has created revenue specifically for affordable housing is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program. It offers extremely attractive incentives for private-sector investors, and it is positively impacting the launch of new projects throughout the country.

Funding from the LIHTC program is already being used to subsidize 2 million new or rehabilitated rental units for families making less than the adjusted median income. Housing agencies are benefitting from an abundance of available funding because of high interest from investors attracted to developments eligible for tax credits. These types of public-private partnerships represent a trend worth watching.

In Maine, LIHTC funding will be used to leverage over a third of the $22.4 million budget commitment to develop 46 new affordable housing units. This effort is still in the design stage, but the project will make the housing available for households with incomes below 60 percent of the surrounding area’s median income. Construction will begin later in 2022 to meet an intended opening in spring 2023.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) blocked $1.95 billion in Hurricane Harvey relief funds heading for Texas, saying that the state agency responsible for administering the funds did not submit the required documentation.

HUD officials first told the Houston Chronicle that the Texas General Land Office (GLO) did not include details of how it would allocate the funds locally.

The department later informed GLO officials of the federal action and of its 45-day deadline to provide HUD with the required documents.

GLO officials said they submitted the paperwork in question – 628 pages of substantial analysis in an appendix to the action plan amendment. A spokeswoman for the state agency said HUD’s contact with the Chronicle was a political maneuver, given that HUD was previously quoted by the newspaper as saying Texas is “responsible for creating the allocation formula and has full responsibility and jurisdiction over who gets the money that was allocated to the state for flood mitigation.”

Congress initially approved $4.3 billion for Texas as part of a $16 billion disaster relief package to different states and territories. Four years later, half of Texas’ portion remains unallocated.
The city of Austin Mobility Committee is set to review the modified alternatives to the Cap and Stitch Design Strategy on January 20 for inclusion in the I-35 Capital Express Central Expansion.

Their meeting precedes a January 25 CapEX VOICE, or Volunteer Opportunity in Community Engagement, working group meeting where the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project team will present the changes and project updates.

The I-35 Capital Express Central project is located in the central region of the Austin metropolitan area for 8 miles along I-35 between U.S. 290 East and SH 71/Ben White Boulevard, with additional flyovers at I-35 and U.S. 290 East.

Proposed improvements include removing the existing I-35 decks, lowering the roadway, and adding two non-tolled high-occupancy vehicle managed lanes in each direction along I-35 from US 290 East to SH 71/Ben White Boulevard, with additional flyovers at I-35 and US 290 East. The project will also reconstruct east-west cross-street bridges, add pedestrian and bicycle paths, and make additional safety and mobility improvements within the project limits.

After presenting designs for the Capital Express Central project at a virtual public meeting over the summer of 2021, TxDOT is now preparing to present its preferred alternative in fall 2022.

TxDOT and the city of Austin are coordinating during weekly and monthly meetings to improve safety and mobility for all modes of transportation along the corridor, ensure it is operationally efficient for local and regional traffic, and increase connectivity within Austin.

Some of these changes include lowered lanes through the project corridor and pedestrian bridges between U.S. 290 East/51st Street and at the Red Line crossing near Airport Boulevard. A Single-Point Urban Interchange is proposed for Airport Boulevard with improved operations for the Project Connect Blue Line. In addition, Austin is working with TxDOT on a “signature” bicycle-pedestrian bridge at Lady Bird Lake among other pedestrian and bicycle improvements.

Estimated construction cost is $4.9 billion with construction scheduled to start in late 2025. Funding is coming from TxDOT and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO).
To help reduce an estimated $644 million and growing backlog of deferred maintenance projects across the state, the Texas Facilities Commission (TFC) will soon issue solicitations for architectural and engineering (A/E) services as well as a construction manager at risk (CMR).

TFC owns and/or manages about 7 million square feet of office buildings, warehouses, and other buildings, about 7.5 million square feet of parking garages and parking lots, and nearly 1 million square feet of school facilities.

The 87th Legislature regular session appropriated $76.54 million for TFC’s deferred maintenance projects to address the most urgent deficiencies. However, TFC requested about $226.41 million for deferred maintenance – about one-third of known deficiencies.

TFC anticipates releasing a request for qualifications for A/E services on January 21 to focus on creating an updated assessment of the condition of facilities across its portfolio, prioritizing projects, and developing design solutions. Estimated value of that contract is $8 million.

These projects will address various deficiencies in life/safety, code compliance, and building systems for buildings managed or owned by TFC. The A/E scope will include confirming deficiencies, prioritizing repairs according to need and budget, collaborating with TFC and CMR during design for construction documents, and construction administration.

The estimated $50 million CMR contract will be for the implementation of the projects identified through the A/E project. TFC expects to open that solicitation on March 11.
Stephen Vollbrecht
Executive Director
State Office of Risk Management (SORM)
Public career highlights and education: As the state risk manager for Texas, I serve as executive director for the State Office of Risk Management (SORM) overseeing statewide enterprise risk management, risk retention, risk transfer, and continuity of operations. I’m also commissioned as a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for the Texas Military Department, State Guard. Education has been a continual driving force in my personal and professional life. I continue to focus on professional education in multiple specialties, including law, homeland security, leadership, organizational design, and risk management, looking for how diverse fields can influence and enhance missions.

What I like best about public service is: I enjoy the feeling of service over self, and the ability to lead with ethics, fairness, accountability, and humanity. SORM is a unique agency that provides a broad range of services specifically to other state entities, and does so with a motivation to help those entities thrive and succeed for the benefit of those they serve in turn. The same applies to my military service, where we all live under the same creed: Duty. Honor. Texas.

The best advice I’ve received is: Like many others of my generation, some of the best advice I received came from Fred Rogers: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” This ties in quite a bit with what I like most about public service, as it has helped to drive not only my choice of career, but also my continuing curiosity.

My favorite way to de-stress is: This is a difficult one - some may say that I rarely de-stress, as I tend to work a lot. There are things that I do find calming, however. Reading and solving problems (intractable or otherwise) is always a source of peace, as is fishing - unless I actually catch something.

People might be surprised to know that I: Am ordained in every church you can find in the back of a comic book, and have officiated dozens of weddings. I was a musician for many years, and have had very long hair or shaved my head on multiple occasions. I draw. I paint. I have more than a few tattoos. I have a black belt in Kung Fu. I’m a Kentucky Colonel and an Admiral in the Texas Navy. I’ve played in more theatre productions than I can count, but I’m introverted to the extreme. My favorite movie is Hudson Hawk. Now that these things are out there, there should be no further surprises.

One thing I wish more people knew about SORM is: Two things: who we are, and what we do. First, SORM is a small agency, brimming with some of the best and brightest subject matter experts I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Many times, the first time people become aware of SORM is when something bad happens, and they must reach out for help. We’re always here for that, because it’s what we do. Second, the scope of our missions. Many people think of SORM as only handling workers’ compensation claims for state employees, when in reality the breadth of our responsibilities is far broader.
Pending a proposed rail merger, Amtrak could begin studying the potential for rail service between Dallas and Meridian, Mississippi, as part of a long-term vision to connect the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Atlanta.

Amtrak recently reached an agreement with Canadian Pacific Railway Limited (CP) to support its proposed combination with Kansas City Southern (KCS) railway. In return, CP has committed to cooperating with Amtrak to implement its strategies for new and expanded intercity passenger rail service.

Subject to CP’s application for control of KCS being approved by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the agreement also includes CP’s commitment to support Amtrak efforts to work with the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) and others for the first service in more than 50 years for Amtrak service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and to study the potential for Amtrak service between Meridian and Dallas.

In 2015, Amtrak conducted a feasibility study for rail connections linking New York Penn Station to Fort Worth through Meridian. However, the idea of expanding the route from Mississippi to Texas was shelved when Hurricane Katrina destroyed rail lines along the coast.

Other expansion possibilities include passenger service through the Detroit River Tunnel between Michigan and Ontario to Windsor and Toronto, increased frequency of trips between Chicago-Milwaukee, and extension of service from Milwaukee to St. Paul, Minnesota.

Amtrak and CP will file their agreement as part of the docket in the CP-KCS proceeding at the STB.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is planning to issue a request for offers (RFO) to procure a licensed interRAI vendor to develop an automated assessment using a software as a service (SaaS) solution.

InterRAI is a collaborative consortium of software vendors that support assessments that capture key factors of a person’s life to assess certain needs including a person’s functional needs related to a restriction or limited ability to perform activities normally considered routine.

The SaaS would build from interRAI’s Intellectual Disability (ID) module for the assessment of functional needs of pilot participants, and from interRAI ID Collaborative Action Plans for use with the ID module to identify pilot participants who may benefit from additional supports or services in specific areas and are designed to guide planning.

HHSC is statutorily required to develop and implement a pilot program to test the delivery of Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), traumatic brain injury that occurred after age 21, or people with similar functional needs as a person with IDD, through the STAR+PLUS Medicaid managed care program.

The pilot must be implemented by September 1, 2023, operate for at least 24 months, and include an evaluation of the pilot. Planning and design of the pilot program is underway and referred to as the STAR+PLUS Pilot Program (SP3). The pilot requires participants to receive the type, intensity, and range of services that is both appropriate and available, based on the person’s functional needs and person-centered planning.

RFI submissions are due by 5 p.m. January 18.
Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) is taking steps to build a second wetlands water supply project near Cedar Creek Lake with its recent approval of permitting and design work for the new 3,000-acre wetlands site.

The Cedar Creek Wetlands project is expected to provide at least 88,000 acre-feet of water annually – or 80 million gallons of water a day – significantly increasing the supply available for the district’s 2.3 million customers in more than 70 North Texas cities. The initial wetlands design would supply enough water to serve an additional 560,000 people.

Engineering will take place over the next three years with construction scheduled to begin in 2025. TRWD anticipates completing the wetlands by 2032.

To potentially expand its capacity, TRWD is exploring other options for obtaining additional reuse water for the Cedar Creek Wetlands. If additional resources are obtained, the wetlands could produce up to 150 million gallons a day of additional supply, enough to serve 1.1 million people.
The Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism awarded $5 million grants to the Cameron County and Houston spaceport development corporations (SDCs) on January 13.

For fiscal year 2022, the 87th Legislature appropriated $10 million to provide the grants.

Funds will be disbursed on a cost-reimbursement basis from the Spaceport Trust Fund to support the development of infrastructure necessary for establishing a spaceport in Texas.

The funding is intended to support the creation of quality jobs and attract continuing investments that will strengthen the economic future of the state.

Awarded through an application process and disbursed on a cost-reimbursement basis, Spaceport Trust Fund grants are available to any spaceport development corporation which has secured a viable business entity if that entity is capable of launching and landing a reusable launch vehicle or spacecraft and intends to locate its facilities at the development corporation’s planned spaceport in the state.

A reusable launch vehicle is defined as a vehicle intended for repeated use that is either built to operate in or place a payload into space or is a suborbital rocket.

An SDC may be developed by a county, a municipality with a population of 2 million or more, or a combination of one or more municipalities and one or more counties. Other SDCs include McClennan County and Midland spaceport development corporations.
The city of Edinburg issued a request for information (RFI) to gather vendor input on web-based strategic sourcing software related to procurement activities.

Suggested solutions should improve processes in the creation, execution, and storage of procurement materials.

Edinburg’s Department of Finance desires such capabilities as:
  • Administrator usability. 
  • Web-based capabilities. 
  • Levels of training offered (end user, train the trainer, administrator). 
  • Data security. 
  • Software (version release schedules). 
  • Demonstration(s). 
  • Implementation strategies and timeline. 

Other requirements include the ability to export documents into different file types, send out bid invitations and addendums, and maintain a vendor database.

The Finance Department manages all city bids through its website in terms of advertising. It is estimated that about 100 bids are advertised in a fiscal year (October- September).

RFI responses are due by 5 p.m. January 24.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) DFW High-Speed Transportation Connections Study has entered the environmental phase in which it will focus on route alignment, potential station locations, and potential social and environmental impacts.

The study will evaluate route alignments along Interstate 30 between downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth, with a stop in the Arlington entertainment district.

NCTCOG’s study will assess high-speed rail, which can operate at up to 250 mph. Over the next two years, a study of potential environmental effects on air quality, noise, wetlands, wildlife, water crossings, and neighborhoods and businesses in the corridor will be conducted following federal guidelines.

The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration will serve as the lead federal agencies during the National Environmental Policy Act study, while NCTCOG will continue to monitor the real-world readiness of hyperloop technology for future consideration.

In Phase 1, the study identified multiple possible locations for an Arlington station and prospective sites for the Fort Worth station in and around the city’s Central Business District. The location of the Dallas station has already been determined.

The study team also eliminated conventional rail, higher-speed rail and Maglev from consideration, leaving high-speed rail and hyperloop.

High-speed rail – commonly known as bullet train – has been in operation for decades in Asia and Europe. Hyperloop technology is still in development. Texas transportation planners envision a high-speed transportation loop connecting Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley.
The Colony Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending a site plan for the city’s fifth fire station, which would be south of the Lebanon Road-Scotty's Lake Lane intersection.

Plans call for a 10,816-square-foot facility that would include 27 parking spaces on 3.43 acres. Preliminary illustrations presented to commissioners show two vehicle bays.

City fire officials said the new station would reduce the fire department’s average response time and reliance on assistance from neighboring first-responder agencies.
Texas will receive more than $537 million over the next five years in federal funding to replace or repair its bridges as part of $26.5 billion to be awarded from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is launching the historic Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection, and Construction Program (Bridge Formula Program) with $5.3 billion available from the law in Fiscal Year 2022 to states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Texas’ portion of FY 2022 funding is $107.4 million. According to USDOT, Texas has 818 bridges in poor condition. Nationwide, the Bridge Formula Program is expected to help replace, rehabilitate, preserve, protect, and construct approximately 15,000 highway bridges.

In addition to providing funds to states, the Bridge Formula Program has dedicated funding for tribal transportation facility bridges as well as “off-system” bridges, which are generally locally- owned facilities not on the federal-aid highway system.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes an incentive for states to direct the new program funds to off-system bridges owned by a county, city, town, or other local agency. States generally must match federal funding with up to 20 percent state or local funding, but the guidance issued on January 14 notes that federal funds may be used for 100 percent of the cost of repairing or rehabilitating such locally owned off-system bridges.

Administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the program represents the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system – providing $26.5 billion over five years to states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico over five years and $825 million for tribal transportation facilities.
Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) was one of only 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S. and 10 Texas higher education institutions to attain R2 Carnegie Classification (Doctoral University; High Research Activity.

In the 2021 update to the Carnegie Classifications, Prairie View A&M was joined by these public and private universities in Texas:
  • Sam Houston State University 
  • Southern Methodist University 
  • Tarleton State University 
  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi 
  • Texas A&M University-Kingsville 
  • Texas Christian University 
  • Texas State University 
  • The University of Texas (UT) at Tyler 
  • UT-Rio Grande Valley 

The honor represents excellence in teaching, research, and innovation in institutions of higher education across the nation. The second-highest ranking for universities with a commitment to research, this designation is now held by 133 higher education institutions nationwide.

Colleges and universities with at least 20 annual doctoral degrees and at least $5 million in total annual research expenditures are eligible for the classification. PVAMU awarded 22 doctoral degrees in 2020 and increased its research expenditures to over $23.6 million in the same year. The University awarded 63 doctoral degrees in the past five years and amassed $105 million in research expenditures for the period, placing PVAMU in the Top 10 for Historically Black Colleges and Universities in regard to research.

Texas universities achieving the R1 Very High Research designation for 2021 are:
  • Baylor 
  • Rice  
  • Texas Tech 
  • Texas A&M 
  • University of Houston 
  • University of North Texas 
  • UT-Arlington 
  • UT-Austin 
  • UT-Dallas 
  • UT-El Paso 
  • UT-San Antonio 

Updated every three years, the Carnegie Classification separates colleges into research, teaching, and other institutional characteristics that are often used to assess the quality of educational experiences for both students and faculty.

The 2021 classifications are being reviewed by higher education leaders and administrators and could change. The listing of institutions in one of more than 30 basic classification categories becomes official by the end of January.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston as chair of the Senate Committee on Finance on January 11. She succeeded former Finance Chair Jane Nelson of Flower Mound who retired from the senate.

Huffman has served on the Senate Committee on Finance since 2013 and chair of the Senate Committee on State Affairs for three legislative sessions, chair of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, and in 2021 as chair of the Senate Committee on Redistricting.
The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) named Mike Arismendez as executive director, effective February 1. He will succeed Executive Director Brian Francis who is retiring.

Arismendez is currently a deputy executive director at TDLR. He previously served as city manager for the city of Littlefield, assistant to the Lubbock City Council, mayor of the city of Shallowater, and legislative director for State Representative Carl Isett.
The University of Texas (UT) board of regents named Dr. Jennifer Evans-Cowley as the sole finalist for the president of UT Arlington (UTA).

Evans-Cowley is currently provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of North Texas (UNT). Before joining UNT in 2017, Cowley was a member of the faculty at The Ohio State University.

Per state law, regents now must wait 21 days before officially naming Evans-Cowley president. Once approved, she will succeed Dr. Teik Lim, who has been serving as UTA’s interim president since spring 2020. Lim was named the president of New Jersey Institute of Technology.
The Longview City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Rolin McPhee as the new city manager, effective January 31. He will take over from City Manager Keith Bonds who is retiring.

McPhee most recently served as Longview’s interim assistant city manager. Before that, he was the city’s public works director, assistant public works director, and engineer.

The council also named MaryAnn Hagenbucher as assistant city manager. Hagenbucher previously served as the city’s director of administration.
Bridgeport ISD trustees voted to hire Dr. Amy Ellis as the district’s superintendent on January 4. She succeeded Interim Superintendent Dr. Arthur “Skip” Casey who filled the position after Brandon Peavey left the district in June 2021.

Ellis most recently served as chief curriculum and instruction officer for Rockwall ISD. Before that, she taught and served as an administrator in Waxahachie, Carroll, and Castleberry ISDs.
The city of Duncanville appointed Mark LiVigni as chief of police on January 10. LiVigni has been a member of the Duncanville Police Department since 1993, most recently serving as interim police chief since March 2021.

LiVigni, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has more than 28 years of policing experience, all serving the citizens of Duncanville.

A formal swearing-in ceremony is planned for February 3.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced these appointments and reappointments from January 7-13:

Texas Workforce
Investment Council 
Joe Arnold - Muldoon
Lindsey Geeslin - Lorena
Wayne Oswald - Angleton
Paul Puente - Houston

Governor’s Broadband Development Council
Schelana Hock - Moscow
Jack Kelanic - Dallas
Ray Scifres - Levelland

Joint Interim Committee
to Study Land Banks 
Leslie Bingham - Brownsville (presiding officer)
Anna Maria Farías - San Antonio
Ernest Richards - Irving
Carl Pankratz - Dallas

San Antonio River Authority 
Derek Gaudlitz - Floresville

Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors 
Karen Friese - Austin 
Albert Cheng - Houston (reappointed) 
Catherine Norwood - Midland (reappointed)

Small Business Assistance
Advisory Task Force
Eduardo Contreras - Austin 
Lisa Fullerton - San Antonio 
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas – Eleventh District Beige Book 
Dozens of public-sector jobs are available. Click here to view all job openings and guidelines for job submissions to SPI. New jobs added this week:

  • Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs - Associate Asset Manager

  • Texas Health and Human Services Commission - Accountant V
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