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Preparing to implement Prop 1

Proposition 1, originally known as Renew Houston but now apparently dubbed “Rebuilding Houston”, was passed by voters last month, which means that the Mayor and City Council must come up with a way to raise the $125 million per year for the dedicated fund. Mayor Parker has laid out the basic steps for making this happen.

The 20-year, $8 billion infrastructure program will be paid for with property taxes, developer impact fees and drainage fees ranging from $5 to $10 a month for an average Houston homeowner.

Only properties receiving drainage services will pay drainage fees, and only those properties that state law exempts from a such fees will escape the Houston charge. State law exempts state government facilities, as well as institutions of higher education, including Rice University and the city’s other private institutions.

“We are following the state statute,” Parker said. “Somebody got a legislator’s ear, and they exempted institutions of higher learning. I don’t know who it was and which legislator did it, but that’s just a factor we have to put in.”

Churches will not be exempt. The mayor noted that eight of the state’s 10 largest cities have drainage fees; none of the eight exempt churches. For cities with a fee, only Austin and Lubbock exempt schools, while El Paso has a 10 percent discount for schools.

“I have yet to talk to any entity where there is any evidence that (the ordinance) will financially cripple that institution,” Parker said in response to a question about opposition to Proposition 1 from churches and other nonprofit institutions.

According to the mayor’s timeline, City Council will vote on a fee rate for the city’s 575,000 property owners by March or April. The city also has to develop a drainage billing process, most likely piggy-backing on water bills. Engineering studies will identify the greatest needs and a schedule for meeting them.

The information about what other cities with drainage fees do about churches and schools is news to me. Would have been nice to know before the election, when HISD was pitching a fit about it, but better late than never. I’ll say again, to me the drainage fee is basically no different than your water bill, and no one claims that schools and churches should be exempt from that. Won’t stop them from trying, of course, and there’s a non-trivial chance they’ll prevail, so we’ll see what happens.

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