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Effect of exempting schools and churches on drainage fee would be small

As we know, the drainage fee that will be collected to fund street and sewage repairs through the project formerly known as Renew Houston is intended to apply to all property that isn’t specifically exempted by state law, such as state buildings and public universities. Various entities like churches and schools and Harris County have asked for the city to exclude it from the fee, which would mean passing their costs onto everybody else, since the Renew Houston referendum requires the city to collect $125 million per year. It turns out that the cost of granting those exceptions would be fairly minimal.

A new drainage fee under City Council consideration would cost the average Houston homeowner about $5.38 per month if the city decides to exempt local government entities and churches from having to pay, officials revealed on Wednesday.

Each property owner’s fee will be determined by computer, using data from the Harris County Appraisal District and other sources, to estimate the amount of impervious surface of each residential or commercial tract. “Impervious surface” — meaning it does not readily absorb water – will include such things as driveways, decks, foundations, roofs and swimming pools.


Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday defended her stance that everyone should pay.

“It is a relatively small amount of money in the grand scheme of things,” Parker said of the $9 million that would be paid by counties, school districts and religious organizations if they are not exempted. “If we are doing this in a fair and consistent manner, everyone should pay their fair share. People who contribute to drainage problems should pay for that drainage.”

Council members have shown little willingness to levy the fees across the board as they continue to hear objections from leaders of local governments and major churches in the city, such as Galveston-Houston Archbishop Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who publicly has expressed concerns about the impact of the fee on small parishes.

As the story notes in the last paragraph, the fee would be $5 a month under “everyone pays” rules. You know that I agree with the Mayor’s stance on this, but I’m glad to see that if Council succeeds in pushing back on her that it wouldn’t make that much difference. If it comes to that, I’d prefer to see schools and the county be given preference for avoiding the fee, since they are going to get kicked pretty hard by the Lege. As for churches, let’s just say that some are more capable of paying the drainage fee than others. You could maybe talk me into giving some consideration to the smaller ones that Cardinal DiNardo is concerned about, but I don’t know how easily one could come up with an acceptable formula to differentiate between the two. I’d rather see none of them exempted than all of them.

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  1. Al Clarke says:

    I think the idea of making an exception for payment of a monthly drainage fee for a few smaller, perhaps cash strapped churches or parishes is a horrible idea. I support Mayor Parker’s position to require all entities to pay the drainage fee since drainage is everyone’s problem. I am concerned that once we come up with a means test for such an exemption that the citeria for exemption will change with the political winds and contributions, and that once on such a list it will be impossible to remove an entity from it. Either the drainage fee applies to everyone – individual homeowners, businesses, churches, & government – as the ordinance implied when approved by the voters or it should not be enacted. Hopefully, our City Council will not bow to the political pressure from those who did not originally support this ordinance and are now seeking special consideration after the fact.

  2. mary t. says:

    In my area, schools often take up a whole block (ie Oak Forest E.S. & Black M.S. take up two together) and churches at least 1/2 a block. Maybe they can at least pay the prevailing or average rate for homeowners in their immediate area. I agree with Al that it will be much more difficult to make them pay the rate after the fee has been enacted. There should be no exemptions.

  3. Al Clarke says:

    If the drainage fee is going to be based in part on the amount of impervious surface a property has then I suspect schools and churches will be assessed a higher than average fee. Churches and schools have lots of concrete and asphalt – large structures and parking lots that are impervious surfaces – and they are certainly larger than the average homeowner lot as noted by Mary T’s comments. I find it difficult to believe that after churches and schools were removed from the funding formulas by granting them an exception for payment of drainage fees that the costs only went up on average $0.38 per homeowner per month. Show me the math, please?