Harris County is less than three months away from a massive $2.5 billion special bond election, but unfortunately taxpayers still have no clue what they’ll be voting on.

The bond election, to be held on the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, was approved by Gov. Greg Abbott just a few weeks ago. The approval came at the request of the Harris County Commissioners Court, which failed to specify projects or even a definitive bond amount, although they speculated that it would not exceed $2.5 billion.

Just hours after Abbott’s approval was made public, Harris County Republican Party’s executive committee issued a resolution opposing the August date for the bond. One of the chief complaints of the special election date was that it wouldn’t provide enough time for voters to thoroughly review the project proposals.

Though the public has yet to see any proposals or draft ballot language, drafts have been circulating around to various flood coalitions and other groups.

In part, the current version reads:

“The proceeds from the Bonds will be used for projects to hold or convey storm water, including land acquisition, buyouts and relocation assistance, the planning,design, and construction of reservoirs, detention/retention ponds, dredging, channel improvements, restoration, conservation, and other improvements (“Flood Protection”)…”

It goes on to list about twenty bayous and the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs as potential projects. According to backup documentation, the priority of the bond dollars will go to purchasing land and buying out flooded homes.

One section of the draft ballot requires each project to have a preliminary engineering report done before it is initiated. It also mandates having two public hearings per project, but only one of those is required to be within the watershed of the proposed project. The other is to be held downtown at commissioners court.

As time quickly dwindles, county officials are essentially asking voters to trust them with billions in new debt and, at a later date, they’ll notify everyone of where they plan to spend it. That should be unacceptable. As the bond election draws closer, Harris County taxpayers need to follow the commissioners court closely and require more transparency from county officials.

*Post updated to reflect statements from County Judge Ed Emmett saying the proposal will be announced on June 12. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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