Harris County Commissioners Supplement Flood-Bond Funds with Highway Money to Accelerate Mitigation
Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court voted 5-0 to transfer $315 million of toll road revenue, unallocated County road bonds and other county funds to accelerate the construction of certain flood-bond mitigation projects. They will allocate the funds to mitigation projects using the 2018 Flood Bond Prioritization Criteria.
The transfer will provide backstop funding for 100% of the projects in the Road & Bridge Subdivision Drainage Program of the 2018 Flood Control Bond Program, removing the risk that partner-funding shortfalls prevent projects from being completed.
Text of Motion
The final language as amended and approved reads as follows:
Create a new funding facility of $115 million, made up of County road bonds or HCTRA surplus revenue, to free up Flood Control bond capacity currently used for the Subdivision Program. The Flood Control bond capacity will be allocated by utilizing the 2018 Flood Bond prioritization criteria.
Create an additional funding facility of $200 million, comprised of HCTRA surplus revenue or other County resources, to support completion of projects that are part of the 2018 bond program with the required transportation nexus.
Here is a background sheet from the county’s budget management department that explains the switch.
The projects benefit neighborhoods with outdated drainage infrastructure or which never had modern drainage systems in the first place. Furthermore, multiple projects are located in watersheds that have been historically disadvantaged in securing federal funds for flood control. According to the Office of the County Engineer, the Subdivision Program has a current estimated total cost of $535 million (or ~$590 million including an approximately 10% contingency).
Among the objectives:
- Provide backstop funding for partnership projects in case grants don’t materialize or are delayed beyond a reasonable time
- Let projects with mature or advanced partner funding opportunities pursue those opportunities for a defined (but not unlimited) period of time..
The background sheet contains a list of eligible projects in each precinct. Any Subdivision Program project costs that have not received a notice or award of partner funding by August 31, 2021, would be eligible to receive additional money from the backstop funding.
Discussion on the motion and amendment lasted about an hour. It became clear that commissioners believe they:
- Must complete all projects in the bond.
- Expect not to find partnership funds for some projects, leaving those projects underfunded.
- Need more money.
- Must use diverted funds on flood projects that have some connection to transportation, i.e., problems created by new highway construction.
Including projects from all four precincts helped ensure a unanimous vote.
Another Bond? Not So Fast
Commissioners talked about the possibility of another flood-bond offering. However, the likelihood of that passing is slim. Poor people feel the money is going to affluent neighborhoods and affluent people feel the money is going to poor neighborhoods. If no one is happy with the way the current bond money has been handled, why would anyone vote to approve more?
Commissioners have grappled for more than a month with how to handle a possible shortfall in partner funding. Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis threatened to slow down or halt all flood-bond projects until Flood Control found a way to fully fund projects in Halls and Greens Bayous. Today’s development, seemed to avoid that showdown.
It’s unclear at this time how today’s development will affect HUD grants in the pipeline, the interest costs on borrowed money, or the availability of qualified contractors.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/28/2021
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