Houston's Drainage Fee Producing Few Results

From an article on ABC13.com, by Ted Oberg, October 9, 2018

Outside Viviane Hudson's southwest Houston home, you could call the new drains, new curbs and new streets progress.

She doesn't.

"It's time they finish it," Hudson said.

City records show this $41 million drainage project was supposed to be finished in 2017, but it's been delayed. Now they won't finish until sometime next year, two years late.

"You know that I will be dead before they are finished," Hudson said.

While Hudson wants the dozers out, Roland Balderas on the east side can't wait for them to move in.

"When it rains hard, the streets start covering up here," Balderas said.

A $23 million drainage project in Balderas' Magnolia Park neighborhood hasn't started construction yet, and city documents show it too has been delayed.

Both projects are among the many supposedly funded, at least in part, by the City of Houston's drainage fee. It's a small addition to Houstonians water bills added by voters in 2010. It's up for re-approval on this year's ballot and our investigation shows the millions of extra dollars collected aren't creating more improvements.

The program, started under Mayor Bill White, continued under Annise Parker and now potentially renewed under Sylvester Turner, started as a promise to get things fixed.

"I'm voting for Prop One: a pay-as-you-go plan to finally rebuild our streets, fix drainage problems and create jobs," one ad said during the initial campaign. "The best part: politicians can't divert a single cent."

That last part got caught up in a legal mess that ultimately led the Texas Supreme Court to rule the ballot language was misleading.

City spending on streets and drainage projects has actually dropped since you started paying the new fee. Spending on drainage projects is down four percent. Street projects have been cut seven percent a year.

Mayor Sylvester Turner blames it on a Rebuild Houston promise to pay down city debt.

"We're not doing as much as we would like because we've changed from debt financing," Turner said. "We just have to finish paying down the debt and then you'll see those numbers a substantial increase."

"We have paid down right at $1.1 billion," Turner said.

That simply doesn't hold up. The city's credit card balance is just as big today as it was before Rebuild Houston was approved.

While the mayor insists the debt paydown is just over a billion, the city controller said the number is closer to $623 million.

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