in Houston, Texas
Houston Mayor Annise Parker: City should bring drainage fees down to average of $5 a month, actual bills higher than expected
Wednesday, Jun 08, 2011, 12:06PM CST
By Kevin Lee
money clip

It's what a lot of Houston homeowners already suspected: The actual drainage tax bills set to start coming due next month are higher than the $5 a month average advertised to voters by Mayor Annise Parker and others.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Parker now says the average estimate of $5 a month she used to sell voters on the fee was wrong. The mayor revised that estimate on Tuesday to an average of $8.25 per month, a 65 percent increase.

The Chronicle says Parker left open the option of lowering the monthly drainage fee to bring the average down to $5.

"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 mayor acknowledged that lowering homeowners’ bills would leave the city up to $12 million short of what the proposition calls for in its first year. Parker suggested the city could borrow money to cover the difference.

Houston voters approved the drainage fee last November by a slim margin. Proposition 1 was backed heavily by engineers who already contract with the city and stand to benefit from the new projects. The proceeds from the $8 billion program are to be used to repair the city’s drainage system, which floods regularly.

Parker has a vested interest in keeping drainage fees low. Texas Watchdog reported in May that Parker herself would have to pay $331 annually on her two properties, with both bills coming in higher than the $5-a-month average.

The fee is calculated based on the amount of square footage of “impervious surface” on a property -- driveways, covered patios, or anything else that blocks absorption of water.

The city has implemented an online system for property owners to estimate their drainage fee, but blogHouston has questioned whether owners can rely on that system. In May, the site was among the first in a growing chorus of voices calling the bills into question:

The estimates seem to be based on Google satellite imagery that was never designed for the purpose. In my case, large roof overhangs, shadows from trees, and shrubs all managed to get assessed as impervious surface for tax purposes (and a small portion of driveway was left out), which means I will have to take time to do a little measuring this weekend, pull up some property sketches I have, and submit materials to city bureaucrats for a correction. And hope all goes well.

***
Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or news@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of money clip by flickr user financialfellow1, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Larry Lockhart
Wednesday, 06/08/2011 - 01:20PM

The author of this article is right on point. The techology of remote sensing impervious surfaces can be used for Houston if enough artificial inteligence is programmed into the software to distinguish between pools, shadows and other structures. Further, my 87 year old grandmother and many other residence dont have the skills or the hardware to access their property and request corrections be made. Thats why I have had to help a lot of my neighbors and friends. See our website www.drainagefeehouston.com

Cole
Friday, 06/10/2011 - 10:16AM

Has the Texas Watchdog noticed that Mayor Parker is taking a salary 40% higher than Former Mayor White? Up from $150,000 to $210,000.

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