Early voting for the $2.5 billion Harris County Flood Bond Referendum begins August 8. If approved, the County could leverage that money to increase the amount available for flood mitigation. Matching funds from FEMA, HUD, the State, and other sources are available. These grants usually operate on a 75/25 or 90/10 basis, returning $3 to $9 for every dollar put up.
Local Dollars Leverage Matching Funds
If voters approve the $2.5 billion referendum, the bond funds could potentially bring in billions of additional dollars. Here is how funding for Flood Control District projects works. (For a printable PDF, click here.)
Bond money can be used as “seed money” for some types of projects. It qualifies us to receive additional money in the form of grants from other partners such as the Federal Government, State, Coastal Water Authority or the City.
Federal dollars for Harvey flood mitigation efforts are available now, but may go elsewhere if we don’t act. Every city along the Gulf Coast is competing for available matching funds.
Partnership Projects: More Leverage but Less Control
Even though you may not be able to follow all the ins and outs of the diagram above, you should be able to see that many opportunities exist to extend the impact of our own dollars. That’s the good news. The downside is that when you start spending other people’s money, they want to have a say in how you spend it. It’s important that we understand risks as we move forward. To get more money, we must give up some control.
Q: How will projects in the bond proposal be selected and prioritized?
A: Harris County Commissioners Court directed Flood Control District staff to develop list of projects. This is not an exact list of projects that must be or will be built with bond proceeds. It represents a list of projects that would meet the goal of the bond election, which is to both assist with recovery after previous flooding events (including Harvey) and to make our county more resilient for the future.
High on the priority list are construction-ready projects with federal funding partners (such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency) that give the County “the most bang for its flood control buck.”
Q: Can the bond money be used for purposes other than flood risk reduction?
A: No. Under Texas law, bond funds in this election could only be used for the purpose approved by the voters. Bond funds will not be used to fund additional staff positions at the Harris County Flood Control District.
Q: Do bond proceeds have to be used for the specific projects recommended by the Flood Control District?
A: No. Voters will be asked to authorize bonds for flood damage reduction projects, but specific projects may be added to the list of potential projects in the future or projects on the list could be modified based upon public input.
However, officials can only spend bond money on projects supported by the Bond Language. Voters will not be voting on a specific project list, only on the language in the proposal.
Freeing Up Budget to Improve Maintenance
Maintenance is NOT in the bond proposal. Nevertheless, the bond could still improve maintenance in a roundabout way. Here’s how. About half of the Flood Control District’s current $120 million per year budget goes to capital expenditures. If approved, the bond would free up about $60 million currently focused on construction projects.
The other $60 million in the Flood Control District’s budget is devoted to Maintenance and Operations. It is roughly divided as follows: $30 million for salaries and overhead; $10 million for mowing; and $20 million for maintenance.
That $20 million currently devoted to maintaining ditches, bayous and streams, if added to the $60 million that is freed up, would make $80 million that could be devoted to improving maintenance. That means the District’s maintenance budget could quadruple.
Yea or Nay?
On balance, I like how the bond is shaping up and I trust the people in charge of it. I wish that the $50 million allocated for a dredging partnership project was a dedicated $50 million. Then, if the bond proposal passes, we might be able to get the Army Corps to extend the scope of their current dredging to include the giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork. Addressing that issue as a change order to the current contract could save years, save dollars, and reduce risk immediately.
Posted on June 23, 2018, by Bob Rehak
328 Days since Hurricane Harvey