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Interview with: Mayor Alvin D. Baggett
Date: March 18, 1975
Archive Number: OH 005
I: (48:40) Interview with Mayor Baggett, Galena Park. Mayor Baggett, how long have you been a resident of Galena Park?
AB: Since 1938.
I: Give us a little background. How did you first get involved in city government here?
AB: [telephone rings] I served on the Recreation Board 4 years. And I’m interested in city government, so I served on the council 14 years. I’m in my 11th year as Mayor.
I: I understand that your position is now a salaried position. Is that correct?
AB: No, sir.
I: Why is this? It’s rather strange. It would seem that you have your responsibilities as—
AB: Due to the Charter. The Charter is set up to pay $150 a month and $75 for expense money. No salary. A councilman receives $75 per month.
I: Tell us a little bit about the structure of the city government in Galena Park. Who actually has the power to make the regulations, rules, and so on?
AB: It’s strong mayor type of home rule government. There’s a mayor and 4 commissioners which is the policy-making body. They’re the ones who set the policy and then the department heads carry out the wishes of the council.
I: Do you have a civil service system here?
AB: Only in the Police Department. The Police Department works under civil service.
I: Is that a municipal civil service or the state civil service?
AB: The state.
I: What issues usually determine our mayor’s race here? Are there sharp differences between the candidates?
AB: No, really, there’s not. About the only issue is on their past experience and their ability to serve—to handle the city government. Really that’s been the only—I can’t think of any real issues because we don’t have a lot of new growth. It’s just maintaining what we have, primarily, and extending the services to the public—there’s been no big issues.
I: (51:46) Are there any political factions in Galena Park, for example, groups that compete for position or power?
AB: No, sir. No, there isn’t. As long as a public servant does his job here and behaves himself, really there’s no other issues. There aren’t any groups that compete with each other.
I: What are some of the problems of running Galena Park—governing the city?
AB: Of course, the last few years, there have been, due to new regulations on water quality and sewage treatment plants and drainage; these have been the major issues. Of course, in extending services we have to meet the qualities of the health department and the EPA and the water quality board. This has really been about the major change. We’ve had to upgrade some of our plants and services.
I: Has this created any economic problems?
AB: We’ve been very fortunate in the last 5 or 6 years. The Federal government has allocated revenue-sharing money for each area, each city, and this has helped us in the sales tax, when the bill was passed by the legislatures. Then we voted on it here, by the people, and it passed. So the sales tax money and the revenue-sharing has helped us with this inflation. If it had not been for that, we would have been in serious trouble. We did not raise ad valorem tax until this last year when we did raise it some—about 15 cents on the hundred, I think.
I: On the whole, is the property tax here lower than in Houston?
AB: Yes, sir. Houston has a much different problem from what we do. They have such tremendous, fast growth. In order to extend the services, they’ve had a serious problem. Their old sewer lines and some other services were not adequate, so it was growing so fast they had a hard time catching up. They couldn’t issue building permits in some areas, as you know. They are doing something about it now. But we do not have this problem with growth here. Our primary function now is to keep our services that we extend to the public updated and do some long-range planning to make sure that we are able to serve the people.
I: (55:17) Are there any particular projects in the future that you’re looking forward to?
AB: Yes, sir. Number 1, we need to complete our curb and gutter project, which is almost complete. We have 2 small areas that we have to complete. And our sewer treatment plant needs expanding—more drying beds and a little more modern equipment. One of our water wells has been in use for a number of years, and we sure will have to do something about it. We are making plans now. We have 2 or 3 areas that the drainage is not what it should be. I don’t whether it’s due to subsidence or it’s due to improving some of the areas that blocked off some of the natural drainage. So we do have 2 or 3 areas that we need to improve the drainage for health reasons and other reasons.
I: Your water supply is from underground wells?
AB: Yes, sir.
I: Do you have a problem—a serious problem—with subsidence here?
AB: No, not really. But all of this—I noticed some of the oil companies near here—they keep up with it year by year, and it’s subsiding at least 4” to 5” per year, which is quite a bit. But it’s not as much problem here as it is in the Baytown area and on down the way. They do have a serious problem down there.
I: You mentioned that Galena Park has been receiving Federal funds. And I noticed in doing the research on Pasadena, there was a lot of resistance to receiving Federal funds. Do you have that kind of resistance here?
AB: To a small degree. Of course, we’ve been very cautious about using Federal funds. As you know, revenue-sharing is money that they, I guess, allocate so much per person in a city to use in certain areas. And we’ve been very careful to use it in those areas. But it doesn’t—we do not have to have matching funds like these grants. We have not used any grants where there have to be matching funds. However, at the present time, we have 3 men employed under the Manpower program. This is to get people back to work, so we did take advantage of that. We’ve been allocated this year approximately $25,000 on this program. We recently filled out an application for a $200,000 grant in the Recreation Department, but it has not been approved. We’ve been very cautious here about getting into Federal programs. We haven’t had the staff to keep up with the detail work. It’s a considerable expense in engineering and studies, and we just haven’t had the staff for that. So the small amount that we’d receive, we haven’t felt like it was worth all the expense and effort. In the larger cities, this is different. But I do predict in the future that we are going to have to go to it because in the sewage treatment and water we may have to work with industry, which I think might be smart because to get away from duplication of treatment plants, it might be. And if there are people in town who—to combine our efforts. I think all of us are going to this in some areas of our services instead of having so many duplications in services. And the Federal government is setting up monies to help us in this area.
I: (59:33) Is your Police Department receiving any Federal funds?
AB: No, sir. We made 1 application for some radios, and radios is the only—and a tire—and it was a matching fund basis.
I: And the school system—is it receiving any type of funds at all?
AB: Oh, yes, sir. The school uses I don’t know how many—they use a tremendous amount of money that are funds. But we haven’t had the need for it and we just feel like it wasn’t profitable up to this point. But we do keep up with it and make studies, and we feel like the time when it’s needed to take the burden off the ad valorem tax, then we may have to go to this type of program.
I: What’s the major source of income in Galena Park?
AB: Ad valorem tax and water revenue.
I: How many industries are located in the—
AB: —city limit?
I: —city limits, right. I noticed when I was coming through—
AB: There’s only about 5 or 6 light industries. There’s a 2,500 foot strip on each side of the channel that is in the industrial section. Nearly all of the industry is in this area. Which we do not receive—the school receives tax from them—but we do not.
I: I see.
AB: (1:01:19) Ninety percent of our income is from ad valorem tax and water revenue from homeowners.
I: So you’re not directly benefiting from these industries around here?
AB: No, sir. In the recent years there have been some new warehouses and small businesses, light industry, that’s coming here. But as far as heavy industry, we do not have any.
I: What about the composition of your community? Are most of the working people employed in the industries around here?
AB: Yes, sir. I would estimate that 80% of our people work in industry.
I: Are the boundaries—are the present boundaries of Galena Park permanent?
AB: Yes, sir.
I: There’s no chance or possibility for expansion?
AB: No, sir. We’re closed in on all sides by the Ship Channel and Houston and Jacinto City.
I: I’d like to turn our attention for a few moments to the relationship between Galena Park and these other communities. Do you have much business contact with them—city government contact?
AB: Yes, sir. I work with all the other cities, the mayor and council organization, and the Region XIV, and Houston-Galveston Area Council. We all work very closely. And with the county—we work closely with them with the flood control because they maintain some of our drainage streams that extend through the city. And, of course, the county has helped us with Clinton Drive, which is a major thoroughfare and has a tremendous amount of truck traffic. So we work with them, and they’ve helped us considerably.
I: Are there any particular joint projects which you’ve been involved in?
AB: None, other than—Clinton Drive was a joint project—we helped on Clinton, yes, when we topped it. The county furnished, I’d say, 70% of the materials and the machinery and labor. And of course we did what we could to help with our own men and equipment. And we did buy some material. I don’t know exactly at this point. And the county has helped us in several drainage problems that we’ve shared. We use their equipment and their men and some material. They’ve been very cooperative. We’ve had no problems.
I: What about the upkeep of roads? Has the county been very helpful in that regard?
AB: Yes. That’s just what I got through talking about.
I: (1:04:52) I mean as far as—you mentioned Clinton—but the general upkeep of the other roads?
AB: Federal Road and Clinton Drive are the ones that the county has helped us with because they’re used primarily by people from throughout the county—not just the residents of Galena Park. Of course, on our streets, we maintain those with our own equipment and our own money.
I: Yeah, that was what I was getting at. But you have your own—
AB: Yes, sir. We have our own street department to maintain our streets. The only ones they’ve helped us with is on main thoroughfares where there’s tremendous, heavy industrial traffic and through traffic.
I: Do you have your own garbage services?
AB: Yes, sir.
I: And Fire Department?
AB: Yes, sir.
I: Is it a full time Fire Department?
AB: The Fire Department—we have 4 full time firemen and we have about 35 volunteer firemen. But we have 4 on duty all the time and 1 family that lives in an apartment in the fire station all the time.
I: (1:06:08) Do you have any dealings with Houston city government?
AB: Yes, sir.
I: What was the nature of that?
AB: Oh, on right-of-ways, and extending water lines to certain areas where our boundary lines cross, in order to get into it. Sometimes they’ll serve an area and we’ll serve one that might be in their territory. They work with us real well.
I: Have there been any changes from—you said you were mayor for 11 years now—from the time that you became mayor until now, in the outlook of the growth of Galena Park or the financial position of Galena Park?
AB: As far as growth, there hasn’t been any. In the residential section, there are not any vacant lots. And about the only vacant land that is available, or has been, is railroad property which in recent years they leased, I would assume, to companies, light industry, to come in here. Some of the businesses were old and run down—some of the old buildings. Young people have come in and remodeled them and started new businesses—that helps considerably. And then by keeping up the streets and keeping the town clean, we’ve had a lot of young people come in and buy homes during this inflation, and clean them up and repair them, which has helped us considerably. But it’s about the same. It hasn’t changed a great deal. It’s just a small city and everyone knows the neighbors. As long as we extend good garbage and police services—that’s about all you really can do in this particular stagnant situation. We do try to keep it clean and keep it up to date.
I: (1:08:51) Has the population remained essentially the same?
AB: The same—yes, sir.
I: What is it approximately?
AB: About 11,000. It’s been the same for 15 or 20 years. We like it that-a-way, you know?
I: Well, it does minimize the problems. [laughs]
AB: It sure does.
I: How about your Police Department? You mentioned already that they are under state civil service. Where are they trained?
AB: They have a training course here, and then they send them to A&M to short courses. You know now they all have to have certain standards before they can even be a policeman. The Sheriff’s Department has a school in Harris County. If we haven’t used it, we plan on using it soon. But all the cities in this—Deer Park and Pasadena and Galena Park and Jacinto City—there are schools occasionally in this area and they have them from the extension department at A&M that come down and put on school, like 2 weeks and 3 weeks, and we train them. They have a school at least 2 weeks each year; some years, more.
I: (1:10:25) How does the salary scale for police officers here compare with the surrounding communities?
AB: It’s about the same as most of them. There might be 1 or 2—Houston pays a little bit more because they have a little different type of work. Deer Park possibly pays a little bit more because they—Shell Oil company pays a large sum to them. They don’t have any problem with money over there. So I think they might pay a few dollars more. I’m not sure about that. But we do keep up to date on our payment in the Police Department, or have tried to. We try to keep good men and well-qualified. We do have a fine Police Department.
I: What is the strength of the department here?
AB: Oh, I think we have 12 patrolmen and about 4 dispatchers—about 15 or 16 people all together.
I: Do you select the Chief of Police?
AB: Yes. And the Council approves the Chief. Yes, sir. Of course, we don’t change personnel very often here. The Chief has been here as long as I have, or since I’ve been mayor any way.
I: What about the issuance of bonds? Has Galena Park found it necessary to issue many bonds in recent years?
AB: For many years we did, and about 6 years ago we sold some bonds and have it in 2 departments now. We have $60,000 that’s been sold that we haven’t used in street improvement, and about $70,000 in water and sewer that has not. We try to plan for at least 10 years in advance and then vote bonds for the departments we feel like where we would take care of emergencies. And then, as we need the money, we sell the bonds. Of course, in recent years, when we’ve sold them we’ve put them on CDs and made more money than we did before. But I would predict in the next year, maybe sometime this next year or at least within a 2 year period, we are going to have to submit some bonds to the people again. For a long time we had so much progress after World War II in city halls and fire stations and recreation and streets and water—in all departments—we sold a good many bonds to improve the city. And we had our indebtedness up to the point to where it wasn’t wise to sell any more because we have to keep reserve each year. We have to keep the debt service—some money in sinking funds—to take care of bonds for when we have bad years. So we pretty well caught up around here for at least the last 10 years. So we had a bond scheduled where we could live with it without raising our taxes. The only tax raise we’ve had in the last 10 or 15 years was this last year. It was raised a small amount by increasing the valuation some. We increased the tax rate, I think, 15 cents. But we’ve had a leveling off point for the last few years to pay up some of debts and kind of catch up a little bit. Of course inflation has caught us now and we’re going to have to really take another look.
I: (1:14:40) Do you feel that it is to the advantage of the people in this area that Galena Park remain a separate town, or do you think it might be wise to become incorporated, say, with Houston?
AB: I think in our situation it would be wise that we remain Galena Park—a city of our own. Houston is growing so fast and the problems are mounting so fast that in the next 20 years, I wouldn’t comment on that. But at the present time and for the next 10 years, I think that it would be wise if Galena Park operate as a city. I do know that the services are much better here than they would be as a part of Houston for the dollar we pay in taxes because the Police Department is helping the school daily and they’re on call, and you call in minutes. And the water and garbage and the other services are much closer and I think it’s efficient at this point. There may be a day, as I say, in the future where in the 7 county Houston area council, there may be some things we can combine some services—purchasing garbage or waste, whatever you want to call it, and sewage—I think maybe there are some areas later where we’ll all have to go together and combine some services. But at the present we’re better off.
I: Houston has enough problems.
AB: Yeah. They may take your taxes, but very little service.
I: Would that be the major objection—the increase in the rate of taxation?
AB: No, no, no. The objection in the past and the present time is that by governing yourself, I think the services are much closer to home and less expensive and more efficient. In fact, I’m positive.
I: (1:17:15) Are there any areas that I haven’t covered that you feel that you want to make some comment on?
AB: No. I think that’s covered it pretty well. We’re proud of our little city. We’ve had good government and we’ve had excellent planning through the years. We’ve all gotten along real well. We have a number of churches here. We don’t have any—it’s dry. We don’t have any beer joints in the town. It’s been kept up, I’d say, better than the average community this age.
I: When did Galena Park go dry?
AB: It’s been 25 years or more. I’d say 1941 or 1942. I’m just guessing.
I: Is there any particular—was there a pressing problem at the time that determined that Galena Park should be dry?
AB: Well, we’re so near the Ship Channel area, and we had observed what had happened in some of the other communities. We felt like, for the protection of the homeowners and the business people, we should remain dry because usually in an area of that type, when they start running down, they’ve got a beer joint on every corner, which creates many problems. We just felt like being this close to the Ship Channel that we just—well, in the first place, most of us are church people and we just didn’t want it. And I don’t think it will ever be, as long as they have this type of government they have now—that the people have here that’s interested.
I: When you say dry, does that mean that grocery stores, for example, are prohibited from handling beer?
AB: Right. They don’t have it any place here.
I: Because I know that in some places when they say dry they simply mean that there aren’t any bars or lounges.
AB: No. We don’t sell it in the grocery store or anywhere.
I: Has it had any effect on the police problems here—law enforcement—by not having bars and lounges? Have you noted any changes or improvement between Galena Park, say, and a neighboring community where it’s wet?
AB: No, I don’t think so. Of course, you’re going to have about the same police problems, in these large metropolitan areas, even if you’re dry. The only advantage, I think, has been to keep the town from having the little joints and the kind of people that we really don’t encourage to come in here.
I: Well, I think we’ve just about covered it. On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives Research Center, I want to thank you for your participation.
AB: I appreciate you coming out. It’s been a pleasure to visit with you.
I: It’s been a pleasure coming out. Thanks again.
AB: (1:20:39)Uh-huh (affirmative). Thank you.