Drainage Fee Drill-Down

Today's final Houston City Council session of the year was the setting the mayor chose to announce her structure for the city's drainage fund. As Laurie Johnson reports — Mayor Annise Parker proposes a fee that will amount to about five dollars a month for the average household.

The first thing you should know about the drainage fund is that it has been rebranded. It's no longer referred to as Prop 1 at city hall. The mayor's name for it now is Rebuild Houston, not to be confused with Renew Houston, the citizens group that lobbied for it to pass.

The next thing you should know is that no policy has been set. The mayor called her presentation an Implementation Discussion Guide.

"This is simply a recap of where we have to start. These are the major elements of the charter amendment requirements."

And from there, councilmembers launched into an hour-long discussion of the fund which will generate $125 million annually for street and drainage projects.

One idea the mayor put forth is to have an oversight committee manage the fund.

Councilmember Mike Sullivan, who opposed the proposition from the start, had this to say.

"I feel very, very strongly that creation of an oversight committee is unnecessary and takes away our responsibility. If we have an oversight committee of people that are not elected, then I view that as further removing public and citizens from representation on important issues."

Parker told Sullivan she understands his position and is happy to consider other options.

She also laid out a framework for how to calculate the fee. It would amount to 3.2 cents per square foot for most residential and commercial properties. Parker says for the average household that would be $5.07 a month.

"Ordinance will come with the rates capped for ten years. Obviously we understand that future mayors and councilmembers could change that as they can change any ordinance passed. But we will at least start from that premise and we'll respect it certainly during my administration."

The mayor's plan does not offer exemptions, except colleges and universities as required by state law. She noted that eight of the ten largest cities in Texas have drainage fees and none of them exempt churches. Just two cities, Austin and Lubbock, exempt schools.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Parker mused on the challenges of her term thus far — which include closing the budget gap, implementing Rebuild Houston and the looming issue of redistricting.

"I do not think I am going to be a one-term mayor. But if I am a one-term mayor, it's going to be a hell of a term."

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...