Commissioner Ellis asks Commissioners Court to Call $2.5 Billion Bond Election for Flood Control Projects
Style Magazine Newswire | 3/29/2018, 11:09 a.m.
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Tuesday asked his colleagues to call for a $2.5 billion bond election to appropriately and equitably address flood control issues, including much-needed projects in low-income neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
County officials stated that some bond money would be necessary to take advantage of federal grant funds for flood control projects that require Harris County to provide matching funds and discussed a lower bond amount that would only meet that federal match.
Commissioner Ellis voiced concern with only using bond money for federal projects because U.S. officials use a benefit/cost ratio requirement that places a higher priority on projects near high-value property. This has the potential to leave out lower-income communities, undermining an equitable recovery for all neighborhoods devastated by Harvey and leaving those areas vulnerable to future flooding.
“If we approve up to $2.5 billion, we could use local dollars to do projects that aren’t on the federal priority list, like all of Greens and Halls bayous, and many of the tributaries of the larger bayous,” Commissioner Ellis said later. Limiting the county to federal match projects hurts equitable flood mitigation because it tilts money away from vulnerable communities, Commissioner Ellis said.
He said he wants to make sure spending decisions are transparent and that there is a clear process for how projects will be selected. He also wants the public to have many opportunities to participate in the discussion and make an informed choice at the ballot box.
During Commissioners Court’s discussion on the need for a Harris County Flood Control District bond election, Ellis raised concerns about the possibility of holding the vote in June, the earliest possible date if the court votes on the matter at its next
regularly scheduled meeting on April 10. A June election raises questions about costs, logistical challenges, and turnout – all of which were discussed in court.
Commissioner Ellis pointed out that the turnout would be higher in November, when more citizens would have an opportunity to decide the bond measure. A June election would likely see lower turnout due to its unusual timing and consolidated polling locations, meaning a smaller number of people will decide an issue that impacts all of Harris County.
This is a risk, Commissioner Ellis said. If voters reject the bond, the county cannot call an election for the same issue again for two years, Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said.
Commissioner Ellis agreed, saying in court that, “After the most horrific and historic storm event we’ve had, I’ve heard members of this body say it’s our opportunity to do something big, and we may not get another bite at that apple.”