CITY OF KATY (Covering Katy News)—As Mayor Chuck Brawner prepares to leave office Tuesday, perhaps it’s not surprising that the city is facing heavy rainstorms. Brawner was only three months into his term when Harvey hit Katy and Southeast Texas, causing significant local flooding and property damage.
The recent rain, fortunately, has not been as severe. Brawner said Friday afternoon that the city received only 2½ inches of rain over the previous couple of days. Other areas near Katy received more. The weather and flooding prompted several school districts, including Katy’s, to close Friday.
“We had our emergency operations center open up last night (Thursday) for a period of time,” Brawner said. “We dodged a bullet on that one.”
Brawner leaves office after losing a reelection bid last Saturday to Bill Hastings, who retired as police chief in January to run for mayor himself. Hastings is to be sworn in Tuesday evening at City Hall.
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In a concession message posted Election Night on social media, Brawner said he wished Hastings success.
Also being sworn in Tuesday are Ward B Council Member-Elect Jenifer Jordan Stockdick, who will succeed the term-limited Jimmy Mendez, and Ward A Council Member Frank Carroll, who had no opponent in the election.
From Law Enforcement to City Hall
Brawner, a former Spring Branch Independent School District police chief, was first elected to the Katy City Council in 2013. Then-Mayor Fabol Hughes tasked Brawner with leading efforts to transform the Katy Fire Department from a volunteer fire department to a full-time, professional fire department.
Brawner said the fire department at that time had an ISO (for Insurance Services Office) rating of 3. The rating is based on an evaluation of the fire department (50%), community water supply (40%), and efficiency of emergency communications (10%).
“I had a goal to get us to a 1,” Brawner said, referring to the highest rating. Last month, city officials announced that the fire department achieved that goal.
The rating is expected to help Katy homeowners and businesses get lower insurance rates. Depending on the company, rebates might be issued immediately upon the classification change becoming official. Other companies may wait to adjust premiums at the next renewal period.
“It’s going to be such a tremendous benefit to our businesses and commercial properties, and eventually it will trickle down to our homeowners,” Brawner said.
Katy is one of only 68 cities out of more than 1,500 in Texas with this rating. Nationally, Katy is one of only 300 out of 27,000 communities with this rating.
Brawner was reelected to his Ward A council seat in 2015 and became mayor pro tem. He filed to seek reelection for a third, final term in 2017, but Hughes decided at the last minute to retire and not seek reelection as mayor. Brawner resigned from the council, as required by city law, to run for mayor. He was elected, defeating insurance executive and former Council Member Hill Adams.
Harvey hit Texas in August 2017. Areas such as the Pine Forest subdivision were hit hard. Even City Hall, which opened in 2016, sustained flood damage.
“With the Tax Day Flood and Harvey, we had to spend our reserve funds, and that’s what it’s for, to immediately take care of our citizens,” Brawner said.
The city had reduced property taxes over each of the past five years, but the emergency spending compelled the city to hold the property tax rate in last year’s budget. City Administrator Byron Hebert said then that the city was not in a position to lower the rate, and the extra money would be put back into reserves.
The city has more tax revenue to work with thanks to increases both in general sales tax revenue and property taxes from new homes in Katy. The city has also sought more commercial development to increase sales tax revenue.
Brawner said he wanted to continue the property tax reductions because the Katy economy was healthy.
“Harvey really upended all of that,” Brawner said.
Voters in 2018 approved three bond propositions, worth $19.25 million, for street work, drainage projects, and expansion of the city’s sewer plant.
Brawner said things move slower in government than in the private sector.
“You say you’re going to do these things, and then when you come into government you see that there are rules, regulations, and procedures you have to follow” regardless of what level of government you’re in, Brawner said. Being on the council helps one “understand the things you have to consider because you’re dealing with people’s money. You want to make sure you’re making the right choices.”
The trauma from Harvey hasn’t stopped Katy’s growth. In April 2018, city and Katy Mills Mall officials announced plans for a long-awaited mall renovation. The first phase of the three-phase project has been completed, and now the work will be done on the outside and in the parking lot.
“They’re going to dress up the outside,” Brawner said. “It’s really going to look nice.”
The city also took over the annual Katy Rice Festival in 2018, after its long-time sponsor, the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, declined to continue its sponsorship.
“Kayce Reina (city marketing director) has done an outstanding job, and I think the city will keep that one going,” Brawner said. “It’s very important to the city, it’s part of our heritage, and it’s going in the right direction now.”
Brawner said Katy’s biggest challenge going forward is to make sure the city keeps a moderate growth. He said it’s important to not let that growth get too far out of hand, so Katy can continue to attract the right kind of businesses for sales tax revenues.
Another big challenge involves putting in more retention ponds. Brawner said the city has had discussions with Harris County about developing an 80-acre retention pond, which would be jointly funded by both the city and county. The city has also been working with federal officials on efforts to control floodwaters that come from north of Katy, particularly the Cypress Creek area.
Brawner described the flood control and prevention efforts as a huge challenge.
Ready for Some Football
Departing office sooner than hoped means Brawner and his family will be recalibrating their retirement plans, which includes travel. The Brawners have a daughter who lives in the Fort Worth area and they look forward to spending more time her and her family, which includes their youngest grandchild.
Football is another passion. Brawner said he hopes to travel to Evanston, Illinois, for a Northwestern University football game. Evanston is north of Chicago, but Brawner has in-laws who live near there.
There’s also a Katy connection at Northwestern. Paddy Fisher, a star linebacker for the Northwestern football team, formerly played at Katy High School.
“They’re doing a great job up there,” Brawner said. “I watch them when I can. I’m really excited about being able to get back to that now.”
Brawner said that with so many former Katy High School players playing college football, it’s hard to have just one favorite team. He’ll soon have the chance to enjoy watching them all.