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Allen Owen

Yolanda Ford

History is made in Missouri City.

Yolanda Ford

Missouri City voters Saturday elected Yolanda Ford as their next mayor, the first woman and African American ever selected for the city’s highest office.

Ford narrowly defeated incumbent Allen Owen, who has been Missouri City’s mayor for nearly a quarter of a century. Ford captured about 52 percent of the vote to Owen’s 48 percent in Saturday’s run-off election.

“I am so proud that the residents of Missouri City have elected me as their mayor,” Ford said in a statement. “After having served on the city council for the past five years, and as a lifelong resident, I am deeply invested in the well-being and growth of Missouri City, and I look forward to working with citizens, the city council and others toward its betterment.”

Ford, an urban planning manager, will take the oath of office Dec. 17.

[…]

Ford has served as a Missouri City District A council member since 2013. A Missouri City native with a master’s degree in architecture, she has 20 years of professional land and community development experience.

During the campaign, Ford said, “there’s a need for a new vision and direction for our city.” She said Missouri City’s immediate needs are to increase revenue, repair infrastructure, address public safety and redevelop major corridors and added that “I want to implement a comprehensive plan that addresses our challenges, start to assume our utilities and improve the aesthetics of the major corridors.”

I wasn’t following this election and don’t know much about Mayor-elect Ford, but it’s always worth noting this kind of achievement. This earlier Chron story has some more information about the candidates in the runoff. Congratulations and best of luck to Yolanda Ford. Community Impact has more.

Why the small cities like the GMP as is

The GMP is Metro’s General Mobility Program, which distributes funds for road projects to Houston, Harris County, and the smaller Metro member cities. The smaller cities like it as it is, don’t want any changes made to it, and claim they give more than their fair share. I called for some objective data to check that claim, and I got it. Two slides from that presentation sum it all up:

Yeah, that’s a pretty good deal for the small cities. In fairness to Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen, the chair of the small cities coalition, his own town gets a mere fifty-four cents on the dollar back from the GMP. I’m pretty sure Houston would take that deal. All these cities also get things like park and ride lots, MetroLift, and the benefit of the HOV lanes. Metro has spent a ton of money on the park and ride/HOV network. I suspect the motivation of the small cities is in part a belief that changing the formula means more will be spent on light rail, which being inside Houston doesn’t benefit them much, though again Missouri City stands to gain from future rail construction. The point is that the money Metro gets goes to a lot more than buses and light rail. I’m really hard pressed to see how altering that equation a little in favor of the latter is unfair to the current participants.

Metro floats compromise on mobility funds

As we know, Metro is preparing for a referendum this fall on the status of the general mobility fund, which is one fourth of the sales tax revenue Metro collects and which goes to Metro member cities for road projects. Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia has suggested freezing the payments after 2014, with any future revenue increases going back to Metro for transit work.

I sure hope we get to have all this some day

Freezing the payments would give Metro flexibility to invest more money in transit improvements, Garcia said.

“We’re looking to extend it on a fixed amount,” Garcia said. “We know they (the cities) need the funds and they go to good projects. The number one priority is to meet the needs of the community.”

Some transit supporters say Garcia’s proposal is a step in the right direction but would still consume funds needed to complete the light rail system. The coalition of multi-city mayors, however, wants the payments to continue in full.

“The 14 of us are not interested in capping our payments, and we will fight it,” said coalition chairman and Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen. “The whole problem with it is that people think Metro subsidizes us. It’s the reverse, we’re subsidizing Metro. We don’t intend to give them any more than what we’re giving today.”

Dan Barnum, a board member of the Citizens Transportation Coalition, suggested that Metro reduce the mobility payments to 10 percent. Expanding mass transit, he said, is essential if Houston is to remain competitive.

“I appreciate the difficult position they’re in, but it (the mobility payments) still takes a significant amount of money from valuable, needed projects and basically puts off completion of the light rail system,” Barnum said. “What we want is Metro tax dollars for transit and I think that’s what we should be doing.”

I am more sympathetic to Barnum’s position than I am to Owen’s, but I can live with Garcia’s compromise. If we’re going to have a public debate about the need for Metro to continue making these payments to the general mobility fund, we ought to have as much information as possible about the money involved. Owen claims that the small cities are subsidizing Metro. I presume by that he means that the 14 smaller cities contribute a larger share of sales tax revenue than they get back in general mobility funds. That’s an objective claim that ought to be easy enough to verify, and I call on Metro to provide those figures. Similarly, we should know what exactly the smaller cities are using their share of the mobility funds for. I have heard claims over the years that some of these cities get more mobility funds than they have road-related need for, and as such they are used as general revenue for them. I call on the 14 small cities to provide some accounting for how they use these funds. Let’s get all the cards on the table and come to an informed decision about the best and fairest way forward for everyone.