Drainage fee exemption plan met with opposition

March 28, 2011 4:31:42 PM PDT
Another meeting was held in the debate over the city of Houston's drainage fee. As we first told you on Friday, Mayor Annise Parker is asking City Council to approve a plan that would exempt churches and schools from paying the fee, but now some homeowners think the plan is unfair.

The drainage fee was controversial before and after voters went to the polls, and months after it was approved, it now appears Mayor Parker's proposed compromise has made even more people unsatisified.

Vivian Harris is angry.

"I'm really upset, I really am," she said.

Harris says she's prepared to pay her share of the drainage fee on her home in southwest Houston, so she doesn't understand why Mayor Parker has agreed to exempt churches and schools -- especially the large churches, like Sagemont just a few miles from her home -- from the fee.

"Anything they put on me is going to be a drain. You can drain me, and you can't drain the church?" Harris asked.

But Harris isn't the only one unsatisfied. It was a standing room only crowd at City Hall's latest hearing. Some churches and school districts say the city's proposed exemptions in fact don't go far enough because it only exempts buildings already built.

"What is put before us is basically a grandfathering of our existing facilities, so basically, we're still going to be taxed on any new buildings and possibly any new renovations," HISD trustee Greg Meyers said.

And then there are critics who never wanted the drainage proposition to pass at the ballot box at all.

"I clearly tried to stop this as bad public policy," former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said.

Mayor Parker says the debate may be painful, but the program will eventually be implemented, and it will be fair. She's confident that City Council will pass the proposal in the next two weeks.

"I think that Houstonians will be well pleased in how we administered this program, and they will certainly be pleased with the results as we keep water out of homes and businesses and improve the quality of streets across our city," the mayor said.

So the bottom line is this: some homeowners feel if they have to pay, everyone else has to pay; although some churches and schools feel like the exemption doesn't go far enough.

So where does that leave City Council? Council members are set to vote on the plan during a meeting Wednesday, though we're expecting the vote may be delayed at least a week. But eventually, something will have to pass.