It has been said that the federal government has all the money, states have all the power and cities have all the problems.
This is somewhat along the lines of the chat between Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner last week.
The two mayors met and were seated in front of an audience in two comfy, club chairs at a Sept. 3 event organized by the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Relations Division in the conference center of the Sugar Land Marriott Hotel on City Walk.
Mayors Turner and Zimmerman were candid about issues affecting the neighboring cities. Of concern to them is the bureaucratic process involved in getting things accomplished. That’s the federal level speak, and as for the state level, there seems to be clashing ground between cities in Texas and the state, more publicly apparent with respect to the overriding of a local regulation not that long ago. Point of reference – repealing of a Sugar Land ordinance on the use of mobile devices, preempted by the state legislature by a differing enacted law.
Hurricane Harvey, said the mayors, brought people in the geographic region together, generous people from Fort Bend, Harris counties and beyond. It’s now been more than two years since Harvey dumped flooded the Houston area, and there are still people living in homes that need repair and reconstruction.
Reimbursement money that is funneled to communities has taken a while, and that has left people complaining. It will be “another nine months before dollars are available for infrastructure,” Turner said. The process for the local resources needed is slow, they both agreed, as is the case for streamlining the process itself for acquiring those resources.
The fact these two neighboring cities have a history of working together, with both Turner and Zimmerman on the same side, is a good thing. They have done it with legislative issues impacting their respective cities. Typically, local governments compete with each other for dollars from the feds and the state for serving the needs of their residents. But when cities work together, like in this region, they can jointly reach their desired, mutually beneficial goals.
The regional economy is important to both cities as noted by the mayors, with shared values on connectivity for mobility in an area expected to continue to experience growth. Providing city services is the natural result of annexation addressed by Zimmerman in relation to New Territory and Greatwood, the latter of which brought Sugar Land’s population to 117,869 in 2018. It is now estimated to be 118,118. The same level of services for city residents is needed to accomplish an annexation process, Zimmerman said, like the provision of water.
“The city is required to plan for future needs,” he said, and these needs are adjusted based on population projections.
Houston will apparently be complementing Fort Bend County’s water needs as a result of building a reservoir, which Turner said he intends to accomplish during his tenure.
“Essential to Fort Bend,” too, said Turner, who said water rights are needed to meet the overall needs of Houston and the region. Those needs translate into population growth, with Turner saying “close to 4 million more people will move here” between now and 2040.
Highlights at the joint mayor event included state push-back on the proposed Allens Creek water reservoir near the Brazos River and the Grand Parkway segment completions, the upcoming Houston Open in 2020 at Memorial Park involving renovation of the golf course to be one of the best public courses in the country, and one of Sugar Land’s signature parks, the Cullinan Park Conservancy at Oyster Creek, all undertakings impacting the two cities.
Zimmerman said Cullinan Park, annexed by the city, is not only for Sugar Land residents but also for Houston.
“Money was raised for improvements” by the private sector, he said, which is filling the gap for both cities.
On the books of things to come is a two-lane HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane from Houston to Fort Bend along with transportation work toward Missouri City, the West Belfort area, 90A and the metro service area. Benefits for Fort Bend are good for Houston and vice versa, Turner said.
Sugar Land and Houston have apparently decided that working together is preferable to struggling with efforts to have projects come to fruition separately.
“The region is strengthened by things Fort Bend has done,” Turner said. “Sugar Land is a strong hold and a strong part of the reason things are developing the way they are.”
Zimmerman’s comment at the onset of the event said it so well.
“We talk about what we agree on and work together to get it done,” he said.