Are you paying too much for new drainage fee?

May 24, 2011 8:01:24 AM PDT
If you have a trampoline, trailer or boat in your yard, you could be paying more than your fair share of the city's new drainage fee. The city of Houston is using satellite images of your yard to figure out the impervious surface, but that satellite image is mistaking all sorts of things as impervious surfaces.

We found all sorts of examples of mistakes made in calculating the drainage fee. If you do not appeal the errors, you are stuck paying for more impervious surfaces than you really have.

Barbara Stepanski's backyard is a playground for her grandchildren, complete with a trampoline.

"It is for the grandkids and they like it and they have always had the trampoline so they will have something to do," she said.

Unfortunately for Stepanski, when it comes to the new drainage fee, the city's satellite images see the trampoline, her trailer and tractor the same way it sees concrete -- as impervious surfaces

It's the very thing that is used to figure out how much money she owes unless she appeals the fee.

"I will go and see what I can do about that," said Stepanski. "That's not right."

The satellite images are taken every other January, so if you have a car or boat in your backyard, check the web site and see if it's accurate. While the appeals process has started, the Coalition for a Greater Houston is going to court to get the election overturned.

The coalition recently surveyed 600 voters about the fee. The group says about half of the respondents voted for the fee but now many have changed their minds.

"If they had known that certain groups were going to be exempted, they would have voted against the proposition 65 to 29," said former Harris County tax assessor Paul Bettencourt.

The city is asking a judge to throw out the lawsuit. Even so, officials admitted that errors on the maps are to be expected and that's why homeowners should take a close look at the satellite images of their property.

"There may, in fact, be some situations that citizens had something else that looked impervious to from the maps," said said Chief Development Officer Andy Icken. "We want them to correct it."

To find your home, you'll have to go to the web site, enter your address and then click on the impervious surface tab. The web site also talks you through the appeals process.

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