Another ReBuild Houston lawsuit

Gotta say, this puzzles me.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A pair of Houston residents filed a lawsuit against Mayor Sylvester Turner and city council Monday, accusing them of failing to follow the will of voters who approved a charter amendment last year for funding drainage and street repairs.

The lawsuit accuses city leaders of shortchanging the dedicated drainage fund by failing to transfer the full amount required by last year’s ballot proposition.

The proposition, which essentially was a “do-over” vote on the city’s 2010 street and drainage repair program known as Rebuild Houston, requires the city to dedicate 11.8 cents of its property tax rate to the street and drainage fund. The city, under former mayor Annise Parker and Turner, has transferred less than the full amount generated by the 11.8 cents for the last five years.

The plaintiffs allege a roughly $44 million discrepancy in what the city currently has budgeted compared to the amount generated by 11.8 cents of property tax rate. Over 10 years, the funding shortfall could exceed $500 million, the plaintiffs say.

Turner’s office issued a statement disagreeing with the premise of the lawsuit, saying that transferring the full amount generated by 11.8 cents of tax rate would require moving some $50 million more annually and would “cripple” city services.

“That would mean cuts to essential services like police, fire, solid waste, and other services,” the statement said. “Mayor Turner doesn’t support that.”

The plaintiffs, Allen Watson and Bob Jones, are engineers who were part of the campaign that put the program, then known as ReNew Houston, on the 2010 ballot. It later was renamed Rebuild Houston.

They said they were suing because the city had failed to meet the expectations outlined in Proposition A, which 74 percent of voters approved last year. They are seeking a court order to force the city to direct more money and “to fund the things they said they were going to fund,” Jones said.

“Houstonians spoke loud and clear just one year ago when they voted to create a fund to fix our streets and drainage,” Jones said in a later statement. “…We are undertaking this suit to ensure that the law is upheld, that the promised funding is protected so that our street and drainage infrastructure receives the investment necessary to repair, replace and upgrade our street and drainage systems throughout the city over the next 20-30 years.”

Here’s what I wrote in 2018 about the ReBuild re-vote. You can click the links to the Chron stories, but there’s nothing in either of them that mentioned a percentage of property taxes. The story mentions this was a part of the original mix of funding for ReBuild Houston, and here I have to confess I don’t remember that. There was so much noise and drama about the drainage fee that anything and everything else got overpowered. If this is what’s supposed to happen, then the consequences will be unpleasant. On the plus side, maybe it’ll take another decade to get settled via the courts.

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7 Responses to Another ReBuild Houston lawsuit

  1. Jason Hochman says:

    Mayor Turner says that the city can’t afford anything…if the voters voted for it. If he wants to buy it, he does. This is why I don’t bother to vote. If he doesn’t agree he sues. Bill King is still the best choice. Turner is lost. I remember when the guy wrote his will, bough millions of dollars of life insurance, and then fell overboard. Only to turn up in prison in Spain. And Turner didn’t see anything amiss.

  2. Ross says:

    Full text of the proposition is here

    Relevant text is

    (iii) An amount equivalent to proceeds from $0.118 of the City’s ad valorem tax levy minus an amount equivalent to debt service for drainage and streets for any outstanding bonds or notes:

    (A) Issued prior to December 31, 2011, and

    (B) Bonds or notes issued to refund them.


    Plaintiffs argue that the City’s appraised property value was $214 billion for 2019, and 11.8 cents of tax on that value is $252.5 million and the debt portion is $161.2 million, so the City is obligated to put $91.3 million into the Dedicated Drainage and Street Fund.

    Should be interesting to see what the City’s response is, and, for Jason, how many HFD layoffs result from the reduction in funds available for other departments if the plaintiffs prevail.

  3. Jules says:

    Thanks Ross, I was looking for that.

    Here’s what the Mayor says

    “The charter calls for “an amount equivalent to” the $0.118. Once the city had to lower its tax rate because of the revenue cap, the amount transferred is the equivalent amount under the lower tax rate.
    Transferring the 11.8 cent full amount would mean a reduction to the General Fund budget of $50M in this fiscal year alone. That would mean cuts to essential services like police, fire, solid waste, and other services. Mayor Turner doesn’t support that.
    The 11.8 cents was the amount of the tax rate at the time that covered the existing debt payment that was attributed to previous street and drainage projects. Of a total tax rate of $0.63875 per $100 valuation, the 11.8 cents was equal to 18.5% of the total property tax rate.
    The equivalent of 11.8 cents has now exceeded the scheduled annual debt payment for existing debt when Proposition 1 was passed. Using the current tax rate, the percent allocated to DDSRF would increase from 18.5% to over 20%, and with the additional tax rate reduction just adopted, it would be nearly 21%.
    The city will vigorously defend its position”

  4. Jules says:

    So no property tax dollars go to street and drainage projects anymore.

  5. Manny says:

    Maybe they ain’t getting as many contracts as they were hoping for, thus the lawsuit?

  6. Jules says:

    Manny, no doubt that is part of it, but this whole thing is a mess.

    This “equivalent” language is bullshit. If they wanted it to be 18.5% of the property tax rate, that’s what it should have said.

    Their website says “11.8 cents of every $100 of property value collected from property owners is currently going to pay off the debt incurred on previous street and drainage projects.” No “equivalent”.

    Never vote for these things. It just ends up costing us in lawsuits.

  7. Manny says:

    According to the lawsuit, the city has not responded, on page six it seems to indicate that there may be other limitations or conflicts in charter that could reduce the amount, but that those should not be taken into consideration.

    Will wait to see how the city responds, not even sure the two would have standing or how they are being damaged.

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