Court sides with homeowners who claimed 'ReBuild Houston' isn't rebuilding Houston

ByMatt Guillermo KTRK logo
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Appeals court reverses 'drainage fee' ruling that sided with Houston
The Texas 14th Court of Appeals reversed a ruling that sided with the city of Houston about the way it collects fees meant for infrastructure.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- An appellate court reversed a 2023 ruling that sided with the city of Houston regarding a voter-approved drainage fee being questioned over whether taxpayer funds were being spent appropriately.

On Tuesday, the Texas 14th Court of Appeals ruled the city's amount of money it calculated to charge water customers under the "ReBuild Houston" tax was "legally incorrect."

The ruling undoes a 281st District Court trial judgment from last July, stemming from a lawsuit filed in 2019, a year after voters renewed the tax.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs, James Robert Jones and Allen Watson, argued that the city council hadn't allocated its drainage fund according to the city charter, claiming that the mayor and councilmembers underfunded that budget.

Over the years, Eyewitness News reported on the "ReBuild Houston" program, billed as an infrastructure improvement fund, that voters passed in 2010 as an amendment to the city charter under Bill White's mayoral administration. It continued into former Mayor Annisse Parker's time in office and renewed under former Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The fee was meant only for flood mitigation, drainage, and similar projects.

In a 2018 report, 13 Investigates found that just a small portion of tax revenues were spent on streets and drainage projects. A more significant allocation went to paying down debt and other noninfrastructure-related expenditures. This was the primary reason Jones and Watson sued Turner, in his mayoral capacity, and the city.

PREVIOUS STORY: Confusion clouds Houston's new drainage fee

After Tuesday's ruling, Mayor John Whitmire, whose name is in the newest documents as an appellee, said he agrees that infrastructure must be addressed but not at the cost of public safety and quality-of-life services.

In a statement, Whitmire said:

"I certainly agree the City must invest more to address our infrastructure needs, but I don't believe Houstonians would elect to do that through a court's order that funds drainage infrastructure at the expense and sacrifice of public safety or quality of life services. While I recognize and campaigned on the importance of drainage infrastructure, I don't believe drainage infrastructure should compete with public safety funding. This shows again the need for us to have a grown-up discussion about the short- and long-term condition of City finances, which I inherited, and we should not continue to kick this can down the road."

FROM 2018: Houston's drainage fee producing few results

TED OBERG INVESTIGATES: City records show less than half of the $781 million you paid in drainage fees actually went to drainage projects.