A majority of the Harris County Commissioners Court on Wednesday said they would support a large bond issue, perhaps upwards of $1 billion, and a tax increase to pay for it. The bond issue would bolster cash-strapped flood control initiatives, which could include a improvements to waterways and buyouts of properties that repeatedly flood.
After Hurricane Harvey’s widespread devastation and severe floods of the last few years, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle, all Republicans, said in interviews Wednesday afternoon that they would favor a bond issue.
A bond proposal and corresponding tax rate increase would have to be approved by voters countywide, after a majority of the five-member Commissioners Court vote in favor of calling the election and placing the proposal on the ballot.
As to how early such an election could be called, First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said his office was reviewing the potential timing of an election.
After Hurricane Harvey dropped up to 51.88 inches of rain across the county, killed upwards of 70 people, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage on infrastructure and other public costs, local officials now face the challenging proposition of how to pay for the flood prone region’s staggering needs.
Nearly 180,000 homes and structures have been built in the floodplain. Flood control officials estimate to buy out even a fraction of those-some 3,300 most at risk of flooding-would cost at least $650 million. Other needs include hundreds of millions of dollars in planned improvements to bayous.
The Harris County Flood Control District’s annual capital budget is roughly $60 million.
“There are some massive needs that have been put off for a long time,” Cagle said. “It is time for us to take significant, serious action to address these compelling needs.”
The commissioner’s support comes after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s this week asked City Council to approve an 8.9 percent hike in the city’s property tax rate this fall to help Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey.
The exact scope of any county bond issue is to be determined. Emmett said during comments to the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board Wednesday that the county needs to tally all of its flood control needs, and seek federal and state funding. Once the needs are put together, the bond issue could be formulated.
Emmett said the bond issue would likely need to be $1 billion at a minimum.