In addition to the disposal of the red light cameras and the associated costs of their removal, Mayor Parker and City Council now need to work out the details for Prop 1, which created the dedicated fund for streets and drainage and will impose a fee on property owners to pay for it. How much, and who doesn’t have to pay, is still up in the air.
City Council members, who are listening to a chorus of local school officials, church leaders and nonprofit groups, appear to have no appetite to impose the fee on those institutions, many of which are traditionally exempt from taxes.
Yet if that view prevails, it would set up a situation in which property owners will likely be forced to pay more than they were assured by proponents of the campaign. Voters passed Proposition 1, a 20-year, $8 billion spending plan to shore up Houston’s infrastructure and reduce flooding problems, with 51 percent of the vote. Supporters said frequently on the campaign trail that the average drainage fee for a Houston homeowner would be about $5 a month. That figure was based on the assumption that no one would be exempt from paying.
“The citizens will say, “They lied to us,’ ” said City Councilman C.O. Bradford, who opposed Proposition 1 because the city failed to adopt an ordinance before the vote detailing how the proposal would be implemented.
As Parker spends the coming months preparing that “implementation” ordinance, council members and some community leaders indicated a willingness to keep an open mind, although many seemed unlikely to support applying the fee to those key groups.
I have sympathy for HISD and the churches, but I don’t recall anyone arguing that they deserved to be exempted from the water rate hike that Council passed earlier this year. I understand their position, but I see this as being analogous to that. They’ll get the same benefit that the rest of us will from the street and drainage improvements that this fee will fund, so I believe it is appropriate for them to contribute to that fund.
Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to work with them on this. One possibility I’ve heard is for the fees that HISD pays to be applied directly to projects around HISD schools. Another possibility that occurs to me, which I think would be a win all around, is to create a fund that would offer rebates to properties with large impermeable parking lots, such as churches, for taking steps to make those large parking lots less impermeable. See the Low Impact Development document that the RUDH people put out for some suggestions. This mirrors the approach that Council took for apartment owners to help them mitigate the cost of the water rate hike for themselves and their tenants, in that it encouraged them to minimize their impact and will reimburse them for doing so. I would strongly support such a step by Council.