The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) August update to County Commissioners on the progress of the 2018 flood bond shows a continued lopsided distribution of funds in favor of low-to-moderate income (LMI) watersheds. It also showed slowing activity overall.
Separately, the County has posted a new website and scheduled input sessions for Adrian Garcia’s proposed new $1.2 billion bond proposition(s). The dates of input sessions relative to the legislative deadline for bond language make it clear that the bond language will not reflect much voter input.
Lopsided Distribution of Funds Continues for Flood Bond
Five watersheds with a majority of LMI residents have received 39% of all the flood bond spending. LMI is defined as “below median income for the region.” Brays, Greens, White Oak, Halls and Hunting watersheds received a total of $430.4 million – an average of $86 million each. Together, the other 18 watersheds received $443.5 million – an average of $24.6 million each. Countywide projects received the rest – $217 million.
I’ve said it before. Facts do not support the political narrative that affluent watersheds get all the funding. To see what the funding in those five LMI watersheds helped buy, see the photos in these posts.
Flood-Bond Progress Appears to Slow
During the month, HCFCD:
- Awarded only one new construction contract valued at $1 million.
- Awarded three new agreements with other contractors but spent $0 with them.
- Completed 19 buyouts compared to 21 the previous month.
- Spent $2.4 million on buyouts compared to $6.6 million the previous month.
The total value of active capital improvement construction projects fell to $225.8 million from $231.9 million in July and $235.6 million in June. Out of that, the Lake Houston Area still only has $2,000 or 0.0009% of the total. Although that should improve in the future, it could also worsen, depending on election outcomes in November.
Total reported bond spending increased to $1.1 billion, up from $1.06 billion the previous month, an increase (with rounding) of slightly more than $40 million.
Overall progress of the bond program? 23.5% complete – four years into a 10-year program.
However, HCFCD believes it is only slightly behind schedule. The District’s key performance indicators stayed steady at .97 percent.
Major-Maintenance Flood-Bond Spending Holds Steady, but Still Lopsided
Major maintenance projects held fairly steady. HCFCD spent $78.4 million in August compared to $78.8 million in July. But there’s only one maintenance project in the entire northeastern section of the county – some drainage system repairs in the Jackson Bayou watershed with an unspecified value. It’s unspecified because the report lumps it together with two projects in the Halls Bayou watershed. The total for all three is about $1 million. Assuming each project got one third of that million, the entire northeastern section of the county received 0.42% of all the maintenance spending from the bond last month.
The largest group of maintenance projects is along Cypress Creek and its tributaries. There are 14 projects valued at $48.1 million. That’s 61.4% of the major-maintenance total.
Input Sessions for Garcia-Bond
Separately, Adrian Garcia has proposed another $1.2 billion bond – even though hundreds of millions remain from the 2015 bond. Unlike the 2018 Flood Bond, which specified projects in each watershed so people knew what they were supposedly getting, Garcia’s bond contains only three high-level categories split up into Propositions A, B, and C. They include:
- A) Public safety: $100 million
- B) Transportation: $900 million
- C) Parks and Trails: $200 million
The county will hold four open houses in each of the four precincts during the next five weeks. It will also hold four virtual open houses. For a complete schedule, see HarrisCounty2022Bond.org.
The one input session in the northeastern section of Precinct 3 will be at the Humble Civic Center at 6PM on October 4th. Neither Kingwood, Huffman, Atascocita, nor Crosby will have its own input session.
Bond Language Will Not Reflect Voter Input
The county must post bond language by September 30 at the latest. But the input sessions run until October 20th. Early voting starts on October 24. And Election Day is November 8. So the bond language will not reflect much voter input. Neither the county, nor media, will have much time to digest voter input. It’s pure political theater.
The bond website provides absolutely no detail about SPECIFIC PROJECTS or WHERE projects would be – despite promises made by the County Administrator to Commissioners Court.
In contrast, my records show that Harris County Flood Control under Judge Ed Emmett posted a comprehensive list of projects almost two full months before the Flood Bond Referendum in 2018.
Equity and Political Leaning Will Guide Distribution of Garcia-Bond Funds
Commissioners Ramsey and Cagle argued for months to delay the bond referendum until details could be nailed down, but Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis refused.
During debate in Commissioners Court, it became clear that Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis intend to use “equity principles” to divvy up the money, not just to prioritize the start date of projects as they did with the 2018 flood bond. Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis even passed a motion that would give Democratic-leaning Precincts about 40% more money than Republican-leaning Precincts. For instance, Precinct 3 would be guaranteed only $220 million. That’s 18% of the total even though P3 has 47% of the county’s unincorporated area to maintain, improve and patrol.
Why Trust in Government is Eroding
During debate, Rodney Ellis even bragged about how he redefined “equitable distribution of funds” in the 2018 Flood Bond text after the election.
My takeaway: Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis don’t want to be held accountable. They talk transparency, but this is nothing more than a slush fund. And this is why trust in government is eroding in my humble opinion.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/20/22
1848 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.