Eight, not five

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.

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7 Responses to Eight, not five

  1. Al Clarke says:

    I could not agree with you more that if the average payment had (key word had) been advertised as $8 per month that the proposition would have been passed by voters. However, I must admit that I am very disappointed that there was no language in the proposition that was clear or specidic about who would pay the fee, and who would be exempted. This has been a lesson in how not to propose a proposition unless the intent was to be vague and now the matter is being reviewed by City Council for at least the fourth time and may be changed.

  2. Jules says:

    Prop 1 was rushed and poorly conceived. Clear Lake is now exempt (probably rightfully so) and they were able to vote on it. They are first going to use the money to pay down existing debt, so it’s not pay as you go, it’s pay as you went.

  3. Jules says:

    Wow I just went out to the COH drainage website and it looks like you can make what you pay “confidential”. Is this just a glitch or a window for corruption?

  4. Ron in Houston says:

    Jules does have a point but ultimately that point is a loser. Yes, as a resident of the Clear Lake City Water Authority I am rightfully exempt from the drainage fee. The City doesn’t drain the street where my house is located. However, as a resident of the City of Houston when my car goes underwater on Allen Parkway, then I’d say I should have some input on whether the city works on drainage.

    My solution: a referendum to put propellers and floats on Metro buses.

  5. Al Clarke says:

    In response to Ron perhaps we should allow the residents of Ft Bend Co, Galveston Co, Waller Co, Libery Co, Brazoria Co, and Montgomery Co who work in the City of Houston to vote on the drainage fee. Of course they would not have to pay the fee since they don’t receive services from the City of Houston, but they, like Ron, run the risk of having their car going underwater when commuting to and from work on Allen Parkway or elsewhere within the city of Houston limits.
    Let me be clear……I have no problems with residents of Clear Lake City not be required to pay the drainage fee, but this again reflects the poor planning and review that was conducted both prior to the proposition being placed on the ballot and after it’s passage. I am leaning more toward the view expressed by Council Memeber Bradford that perhaps we should “start over to get this right.”
    Wonder who will be the next group to be exempted?

  6. Garwood says:

    Al and others — I am pretty sure that the Clear Lake votes tipped the vote AGAINST the drainage tax. Take their votes out of the election and maybe it passes by maybe 55% instead of just 51%. So your argument about how it wasn’t right that they got to vote since they were exempt doesn’t seem very convincing to me…

    (I am just going on memory here and didn’t look up the precinct/area vote totals, but I recall that Kingwood and Clear Lake had the highest % voting no.)

  7. Cole’s intuition is correct. Republicans in general, and Clear Lake residents in particular, voted against Prop 1. See http://offthekuff.com/wp/?p=32535 for details.

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