Mayor Parker says that initial estimates of how much the average homeowner would pay for the new drainage fee were understated.
Mayor Annise Parker acknowledged Tuesday that her administration erred in telling voters that the average homeowner’s monthly Proposition 1 drainage fee would be $5. It is actually closer to $8.25, she said.
Parker said that among the options she will send to the Houston City Council to make up for the error is to lower homeowners’ bills to the $5 average.
The disclosure comes weeks before the city sends out the first bills to help pay for the $8 billion, 20-year plan to shore up its drainage infrastructure that voters narrowly approved last November. And it follows weeks of complaints from homeowners who got sample bills for a monthly charge two, three or more times as high as the one frequently used in the Proposition 1 campaign.
“The typical example we used may have given the wrong impression to the voters and to Council,” Parker said. “I’m going to lay out to Council ways to bring (the rate) it down. I think we probably ought to do that, but Council will need to do this with me.”
The average fee was based on what was touted as a typical Houston residential property – a 5,000-square-foot lot with 1,875 square feet of impervious surface.
The city’s revised estimate – again using satellite imagery and appraisal district data – is that the typical Houston home sits on a 7,500-square-foot lot with 2,850 square feet of impervious surface. That yields a monthly bill of approximately $8.25, Parker said.
Ugh. This is just a screwup. I don’t know whose fault it is exactly, and to some extent I don’t care, but it is the Mayor’s responsibility. She owns this, and she deserves the criticism she’s going to get for it. This should not have happened.
Having said that, let me say this. Had the initial word been that the average bill would be about $8 instead of about $5, I don’t believe that would have altered the politics of any of this. Eight bucks is still a nominal amount, and I believe that people who want to do something about improving drainage would have found that to be a reasonable amount to pay for the purpose of improving it. And that’s what makes this screwup so annoying. Had the public pronouncements been that the average fee was $8, there would have been the usual whining from the same cast of characters that have opposed this from the beginning, and nobody would have cared. Now people who weren’t opponents are grumbling about it, and for good reason. Yes, as Campos says, the Mayor owned up to the error – she took some lumps in Wednesday’s Council meeting as well – but it was an unforced error. She needs to do better than that.
As for those ever-whining opponents of Renew/Rebuild Houston, it remains the case that they have never said what they would do instead. From Paul Bettencourt and his extreme aversion to paying for anything to CM Bradford and his “we need to start over” refrain, which should sound familiar to anyone who paid attention to the debate over health care reform in 2009, their goal is to stop Rebuild Houston and ensure that the city continues to do nothing to mitigate flooding and improve drainage. If they had an alternative plan and could provide any details about what it would entail and how much it might cost, that would be one thing. But they don’t, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. People voted for Prop 1 because they knew that flooding is a problem in Houston, and they were willing to pay a reasonable amount of money to do something about it. Both remain true today. Houston Politics has more.