In his last State of the City address before civic, business and community leaders throughout Tyler, Mayor Martin Heines credited the city’s longtime financial practices for making progress on infrastructure.
Heines, who served two terms on the Tyler City Council and is in his third and final term as mayor, said the city has invested about $90 million in water, wastewater, streets, drainage, parks and public safety during his tenure as mayor.
“The Tyler model is unique and a point of envy throughout the state,” Heines said. “We have no general obligation debt, operating a pay-as-you-go approach that emphasizes strong financial transparency and management.”
“We keep a low property tax, and yet we are home to beautiful public spaces, dynamic programs and award-winning projects. We have one of the most passionate, creative, committed municipal staffs in the state of Texas."
He cited the practice used since the 1990s, in which the city government has used revenue through a half-percent sales tax, also known as the half-cent sales tax, to pay for infrastructure upfront, instead of taking out bonds.
The city does take out revenue bonds to pay for utility infrastructure and pays off the debt through water and sewer fees. That department, called Tyler Water Utilities, is set up similarly to a self-sustaining business within city government.
“We don’t politick or push state law here at City Hall,” he said. “Our focus is on providing direct, basic services to our residents. We operate as a business, and we are proud of who we are.
“We are able to take this businesslike approach to government and operate primarily on revenue from sales tax because we are the top sales-tax generating regional city east of I-35,” he said.
Heines read a list of accomplishments over the past year that included breaking ground on two new fire stations, one on Palace Avenue and one on Cherryhill Drive, and finishing a refurbished airport runway, leading to a new flight from Tyler to Denver.
He also announced progress on the commitments he made in his 2018 speech to upgrade the city’s traffic signals to alleviate crowded streets, and come up with a medium-term plan to improve the flow of South Broadway Avenue.
The City Council approved spending about $620,000 to commission a study from the consulting firm Kimley-Horn to evaluate the city’s traffic system and provide suggestions such as motion sensors, school zone flasher technologies and light retiming.
In a promotional video, he said success would mean people see green lights when there is no traffic on the roads. He said he expects the City Council will be able to approve some preliminary projects to implement the project before he leaves office next May.
Heines cited plans by the Texas Department of Transportation and a regional transportation agency to spend $100 million widening Old Jacksonville Highway, Paluxy Drive and Rhones Quarter Road.
“These projects do not disturb Broadway Avenue, our historic small business, retail, commercial corridor,” he said. “Instead, they increase north-south capacity and mobility on either side of Broadway.”
He gave special praise to the area’s faith-based nonprofit institutions, which he said are crucial for the social services they provide, and how they largely perform the services without city funding, helping keep the tax rate low.
“We must support these outstanding organizations and their endeavors,” Heines said. “We can all agree that social services are best performed when our residents care for one another without government interference.”
Heines said the city has a bright future, that it should continue to build its infrastructure, and that it should not put off its obligations onto future generations, but other mayors and City Councils will need to do that.
“Tyler’s tomorrow will be as exceptional tomorrow as it is today,” Heines said. “I’m proud to live here. I’m proud to be your neighbor. And for one more year, I’m truly honored to be your mayor.”
TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield