The Harris County Commissioners Court met Tuesday March 26th to discuss a potential bond election for the Harris County Flood Control District. The County could call a special election as early as June 16th, which would require a vote on Commissioners Court on April 10th.
Bill Jackson, the county budget director, reported that the county will soon run out of funds for the buyout program and other flood mitigation projects—the Harris County Flood Control District had identified projects that would require $900 million in matching local funds. If Harris County did not have local matching funds, these projects would be put on hold and the federal money may go to other jurisdictions, like Florida, Puerto Rico, or California, and may not be available later.
Judge Ed Emmett asked what would a $900 million mean for the average home owner? Jackson said that based on the likely structure of a $1 billion bond, the average homeowner would see an increase of $5 per year for the first year and $20 after five years. Seniors (over 65) would pay no increase.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis commented that a variety of different bond amounts have been discussed throughout the community including $1B, $2B and $3.1B. Russ Poppe reported that the $900 million would pay for Harris County’s share of local matching funds required for various federal agencies on ongoing projects, like Brays, Hunting, and White Oak Bayous and Clear Creek. Corps is conducting studies that will require matching funds beyond the $900 million in identified projects; these projects will need funds in a few years and receive priority based on a Cost Benefit Ratio determined by the Corps.
Emmett said that it would be important to take care of everyone—the court should concentrate on protecting people—not just property. Poppe said that Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) projects would also require additional matching funds and most of these funds must be spent in low income areas that would not qualify under the Corps Cost Benefit Ratio analysis. These funds would be spent quickly and would need a match much sooner.
Commissioner Jack Cagle wondered if Harris County needed two sets of bonds—one to cover immediate needs of $1 billion and additional bonds to cover future projects. Ellis said that he would like to know more about a $2.5B bond proposition plus a $600M refinancing of the current HCFCD bonds—Ellis suggested that Harris County go big with one election. Commissioner Jack Mormon said that, somewhat surprisingly, he agreed with Ellis. Commissioner Steve Radack suggested that the state should give back 20% of the sales tax that it takes from Harris County.
The City and County are currently working together to coordinate use of funds in the Houston Region. Mayor Turner and Judge Emmett worked out a deal with Land Commissioner George P. Bush and the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) to receive $1.2B each directly from HUD. This means that both the city and county will be able administer to CDBG programs up to the $1.2B amount directly with HUD, which will mean that hundreds of millions of dollars will go to people in need and not to pay government overhead costs.
The County also authorized negotiations of a contract with Fugro International to study the feasibility of flood tunnels in Harris County. The Chronicle recently reported on flood tunnel discussions.