Katy Mayor Bill Hastings gave a roughly 40-minute address at the March 24 Katy Business Association monthly gathering held at The Ark located at 21402 Merchants Way. Hastings discussed the challenges …
Katy Mayor Bill Hastings gave a roughly 40-minute address at the March 24 Katy Business Association monthly gathering held at The Ark located at 21402 Merchants Way. Hastings discussed the challenges of a year of COVID-19 and the decisions the city made as it tried to balance service to residents and employee retention.
“If your employees aren’t happy, it rolls right down to your customer base,” Hastings said.
Hastings said the pandemic was a challenge on many fronts, not least of which was being the hub city of three counties – Fort Bend, Harris and Waller counties – that each had executive orders from county judges meeting the needs of their differing populations and economies. In the end, he said, the city decided to take the most advantageous parts of all three orders and apply them to the city to meet the city’s specific needs.
Fiscally, Hastings said, city administration was concerned with revenue changes that were expected to be part of the outfall of the executive orders put out by county judges and Tex. Gov. Greg Abbott. In expectation of that, he said, the city looked at all of its projects and which could be postponed or reduced in scope to save money in what was expected to be a 40-60% reduction in sales tax proceeds. Flood mitigation and public safety projects were prioritized for ongoing work while beautification and less impactful projects were placed on hold.
Eventually, though, reports came in showing that the city’s sales tax revenues were only down by a small amount. As city staff began analyzing why, they realized that restaurants offering curbside delivery, warehouse orders such as those through Amazon, American Furniture Warehouse and other warehouses and big box stores located in town or who had to pay sales tax because the delivery was made within city limits had made up for most of the projected sales tax shortfall.
“I said, we’ve got people that are sitting at home on their new couches that they bought from American Furniture (Warehouse), shopping online, eating pizza (and googling),” Hastings said. “And that was our saving grace. That’s how we came through it (financially) the way we did.)”
Hastings said that his priority throughout the last year has been ensuring no staff benefits were reduced and no staff members were eliminated. Instead, the city continued its usual 14% contribution to employee retirement funds. Administration also ensured employees who contracted COVID-19 could stay home and recuperate without having to worry about losing their jobs or using up sick time.
Hastings said he was concerned about the upswing in domestic violence over the last year as families were forced into close quarters during stay-home orders.
Now that the city is on better financial footing and understands better how to adjust its fiscal projections, Hastings said projects which had been slowed are picking back up. The Katy Boardwalk Project near Katy Mills already has trails finished around the 80-acre lake and the loft apartments there should be opening in May. Additionally, the detention pond at Leyendecker Landing is underway and the city is moving forward with a master parks plan to improve walkability and allow residents to enjoy the city’s outdoor spaces, he said. The city’s downtown plaza project is also nearly complete with most of the landscaping installed, he said.
However, Hastings said his goal continues to take care of the city’s employees, especially after their performance during Winter Storm Uri where he witnessed staff helping residents deal with broken pipes while also sometimes wading knee-deep into ice-cold waters to do their jobs.
“That’s where my passion is – is for our employees, because you’ve got to understand that without our employees, we’re nothing,” Hastings said.