March 07, 2005
County proposes relocating annexes farther out

I'm a little suspicious of this.

For 25 years, southwest Houston-area residents have gone to Harris County Annex 19 to renew auto registrations, pay taxes and find out how much a speeding ticket was going to cost them.

Next year, though, the annex on Chimney Rock is slated to close and be replaced by a much larger facility outside the Sam Houston Tollway six miles to the west.

It could be the start of a trend. The county is considering moving 14 other neighborhood annexes to as few as eight larger, regional county buildings on or near Beltway 8, which encircles the city about 15 miles from downtown.


The county is studying whether the phaseout of neighborhood annexes over the course of a decade or more would provide better services and save money in operating costs.

It would cost about $15 million to renovate neighborhood justice-of-the-peace court locations, often called annexes, said Mike Yancey, head of the county's property and facilities management department.

The county is better off building regional justice centers than spending millions on repairs and expanding buildings too small to meet the public's needs, he says.

Red flag number one: How much would constructing the new buildings cost? We don't know, because the article doesn't say. Maybe they haven't bid it out yet, or maybe the cost is higher and they plan on making it up with those reduced operating costs. That's certainly feasible, but where are the numbers? Something isn't right here.

Regional facilities would be bigger and have more space to provide better service, Yancey said.

They would house, as most do now, JP courts and satellite offices of the county clerk and county tax assessor-collector.

They also could include district offices for the sheriff's department, the local constable, a county toll road authority store selling EZ Tags, and a branch of the county library.

Regional facilities strung along or near the Beltway would be about halfway between those living in the county's outer reaches and neighborhoods near downtown, Yancey said. The main county offices downtown would still be available.

County Commissioner Steve Radack, long a proponent of stringing county satellite offices along Beltway 8, and Yancey said the toll road would benefit by siting the offices along the highway.

Red flag number two. Is it really kosher for the county to drum up business for its toll roads this way? Last I checked, the Sam Houston wasn't exactly hurting for traffic, so is this giving the county's coffers a boost, or just adding to gridlock? And speaking as a lifetime member in Cheapskates Anonymous, I'll take the free Beltway over the tolled Sam Houston any day of the week, given a choice. I can't believe I'm unique on that score. I just hope they aren't basing their secret numbers in part on a projected rise in toll road usage.

I don't necessarily oppose the idea of relocating the annexes as specified, and I can see the value in bigger centers with multiple JP courts in them. I just want to know the whole story before I make up my mind.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 07, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack