The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County Board of Directors today voted unanimously to place a referendum on METRO's General Mobility Program on the November 6 ballot, after several members of the board gave their proposals for what language to place on that ballot.
The General Mobility Program allocates 25 percent of METRO's sales tax revenues to streets, drainage, hike and bike trails, traffic signals and other improvements. The remaining 75 percent of the one-cent sales tax METRO levies is used by the agency to provide transit through bus and rail service. Approval by voters is required to continue the program, which had been extended by referendum in 2003, to expire in 2013.
Several of the board members gave their proposals, with Lisa Castaneda and Cindy Siegel declining to give their own options. Burt Ballanfant and Gary Stobb gave a joint proposal.
The proposals were mixed, with some board members suggesting an “up or down” vote on whether to continue the General Mobility Program. Listen
Ballanfant and Stobb gave such a proposal to continue the program.
Dwight Jefferson proposed such a referendum, which would allow voters to either continue sending 25 percent of METRO's revenues to the program, or to end the program and dedicate all of its sales tax revenues to transit.
Board Chair Gilbert Garcia recommended two options, one which would continue the program, but cap revenues for the General Mobility Program at 2014 levels, going forward to 2030, at which time a new referendum would be required. The other option would continue the program “as is” until 2030.
“There's no magic at 2030,” Garcia said, noting that was when available sales tax projections ended and also near the time of a renewal for the City of Houston's “Renew Houston” program.
Allen Watson suggested an increase in bond limit in an amount not to exceed $200 million to partner with other authorities and agencies to construct “non-rail transit projects”, with partnering agencies committing a minimum of 15 percent to construction costs, continue the mobility program, with a cap at 2014 levels until 2030, and develop a “fare plan” to improve fare collections.
Christof Spieler suggested postponing any changes to the program for another five years, with another referendum in 2019. He also added in his proposal to include options to double METRO's authority to issue sales tax bonds, and to continue work on the fourth and final rail line in the first phase of METRO's light rail project.
Spieler also suggested provisions that METRO would not decrease bus service below the 2012 level, and not raise fares for rail or bus service during that time.
Carrin Patman suggested an “up or down” vote on continuing the program, but for another vote to take place in 2016 to continue street projects funding.
The proposals will be discussed at a meeting of the board on August 3, where the proposals will be narrowed to two. The final proposal for ballot language will be decided at a future meeting.
The board voted 6-1-2, with Siegel opposed and Stobb and Watson abstaining, to approve a professional services contract with HNTB to provide environmental assessments, remedial design, conceptual design and preliminary engineering and final design services for the Hughes Underpass for the East End Rail Line.
The contract is in an amount not to exceed $5,505,000.
The board discussed the item, which included increased costs to create an underpass at the intersection, as opposed to an overpass that was originally planned.
“I think in this case, when we're doing something sort of above and beyond what was planned, I think the City of Houston should be bearing the cost, so that it is in fact, negligible to METRO, compared to what we were going to do,” Siegel said.
The board voted unanimously to award four two-year contracts for the purchase and delivery of engine parts for METRO's fleet of transit vehicles.
Recipients of the contracts were Cummins Southern Plains, LLC, for a total of $1,932,647; Performance Truck, Inc. for a total of $48,137; and Mohawk Manufacturing and Supply Company for a total of $79,805.
In a separate motion, the board voted 8-0-1, with Stobb abstaining, to award a $125,341 contract to M&D Distributors for the purchase of engine parts.
The board voted unanimously to ratify President and CEO George Greanias' decision to operate and maintain rail operations with METRO staff.
The staff had performed an analysis of privatizing operation of the rail line with its expansion, which resulted in a recommendation to remain operated by staff hired by METRO.
“At least for myself, and I think for possibly others on the committee, the thought was that staff has certainly earned the chance to do this, but there is a belief that privatization is a valid alternative, and so the staff has their work cut out for them,” Ballanfant said.
Ballanfant said the option to privatize operation of the rail could be considered again in the future.
“If we were to go to an outside source at this time, it may be very hard to come back in-house,” he said.
Spieler praised METRO's staff on their operation of the rail system.
“I think I've ridden three-quarters of the rail transit systems in the United States, and I have not seen another operation where I can say 'that is a better run operation than this one'”, he said.
All other items were approved by unanimous vote. All members were present. Agenda