City drainage fee sparks heated budget debate with county leaders

November 8, 2011 5:00:04 PM PST
The city and county are at odds over the city of Houston's drainage fee and it all boils down to money. Since the city is telling the county to pay up over Reliant Stadium fees, Harris County is making a move.

When the drainage fee assessments were sent out, Harris County is said to have received a massive bill for Bear Creek Park, even though it's essentially part of a flood control project itself. That assessment was dropped, but the city still wants nearly $400,000 for the Reliant Complex. And so it begins?

"What it is, is totally a money grab," said Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack.

It's a shot fired by Harris County, aimed at the city's recently imposed drainage fee, which takes us to Reliant Stadium.

Reliant Park is a county complex paid for with bond money. The city sent the county a drainage fee bill for about $330,000, right in the middle of football season.

Radack said, "If they were going to do that, I thought an appropriate time would be just before a Texans game, to see what it would do with these political contests going on."

The county paid the bill but also upped the ante. Reliant is a public facility but it generates revenue which means sales tax, much of which goes to pay the bonds that built the stadium. But the city of Houston gets nearly a million dollars a year of it.

Today commissioners approved a measure that would kick the matter to the legislature to "...adjust current law to compel the city of Houston to collect and remit to the county all sales tax revenues collected at county venues like Reliant Park that aren't currently committed to retiring stadium debt."

Translation -- if the city wants its drainage fee, the county wants its sales tax money.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, "One government entity taxing another government entity just doesn't make any sense because, again, the taxpayers are going to make up that difference somehow."

To be fair, consider the city's airport system. Because it generates runway revenue and more, it has to pay a very large drainage fee.

"I don't believe the citizens of Houston should be subsidizing that kind of facility," explained Houston Mayor Annise Parker. "So it's good for the city of Houston, it's good for Harris County."

The county apparently disagrees.

"I would much rather if the city is having money difficulties they would ask for our help instead of laying on the fees," said Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle.

Both the mayor and county judge believe there is time to work out the matter and an opportunity to better coordinate and not duplicate city and county responsibilities. The legislature doesn't meet until January 2013.

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