On May 4, League City residents will vote on three different propositions, including a $73 million bond to mitigate drainage and a $72 million bond for traffic fixes. A general obligation bond has not been on a League City ballot since 1992.
The third proposition will allow voters to decide if they support increasing the sales tax rate $0.0025 to help fund the debt. Recent attempts, the latest being in 2015, to increase League City’s sales tax rate have failed.
League City does not normally have May elections, but City Council and city staff agreed it is important to bring these options to voters as soon as possible and not wait until the November election. Residents want action now, not later, city officials said.
“They plead with us to get something done,” Mayor Pat Hallisey said. “We believe we need to get something going.”
Marika Fuller’s home in the Bay Ridge subdivision is one of thousands in the city that took on water during Hurricane Harvey. A quarter of the city’s roughly 32,000 homes—including all but about 15 of the more than 400 homes in Bay Ridge—flooded during the historic storm.
The storm’s toll was heavy. Fuller’s home took on a foot of water, which meant she lost her furniture and many personal belongings and had to replace her floors and walls, she said.
“We essentially gutted the whole house,” Fuller said.
After the storm, the city hired engineers and consultants to study several neighborhoods that flooded the worst, including Bay Ridge. The city came up with a list of over $120 million worth of drainage projects for affected areas.
“We’re getting a pretty big chunk of those homes that flooded by Harvey,” City Manager John Baumgartner said.
However, staff and City Council realized spending so much at once on drainage projects would increase the property tax rate, so they pared the list down to 21 projects totaling $73 million. Projects include the creation of detention ponds, enhancement of drainage easements and more.
Bay Ridge already has a detention pond, but the neighborhood flooded because the pond could not drain fast enough. The bond includes money to install pump stations to help the flow of water toward Galveston Bay, Fuller said.
One major project left out of the bond is a $30 million diversion channel that would have gone along Hwy. 96 to the bay. Such a project would reduce flooding in several neighborhoods, but the city removed it because of its cost and other projects that will mitigate drainage in those subdivisions, city officials said.
Fuller has been vocal about including the $30 million project in the bond. It is expensive, but the city needs to pay it now or risk paying even more later, she said.
“Eventually, we will have to have other ways of diverting the water. There’s no way around that,” Fuller said. “At some point or other, we gotta bite the bullet.”
Since Harvey, the city has applied for over $60 million in state and federal grants to fund drainage projects. Baumgartner said he does not expect to receive all the money the city asked for, but staff said they are hoping for $20 million.
“As we sit here today, we still believe we will get some grant funding for the projects we’ve submitted to the various state and federal programs,” Baumgartner said.
Even though 75 percent of League City’s homes did not flood during Harvey, Fuller said she is optimistic residents will see the need to support the drainage bond. Every resident pays some of the cost of flooding because flooding can lead to budget deficits. The $73 million bond will help minimize such costs, Fuller said.
“At the end of the day, we need to lead the water away, and it’s gonna cost money,” she said. “We gotta do something about it.”
According to a citizen survey from summer 2018, mobility issues are the No. 1 concern among League City residents. Nearly 31 percent of residents listed traffic problems as their top concern, and 40 percent of respondents want City Council and staff to focus on traffic, mobility and road construction this year.
League City is only halfway built out, and its population continues to grow as the Texas Department of Transportation widens I-45. With that growth and construction comes traffic, and League City has identified 10 projects totaling $72 million to help alleviate traffic congestion.
About 80 percent of League City residents commute out of the city toward Houston or Galveston for work, so many of the proposed projects improve connections to I-45. Others help improve League City’s north-south connections, Baumgartner said.
“From a traffic perspective, we’re certainly aware of the community’s need to get on I-45 in the morning and off I-45 in the evening,” he said.
About $5 million of the bond would fund a segment of the Grand Parkway planned to pass through League City. Over $33 million would go toward extending Landing Boulevard north over Clear Creek to make another connection between FM 518 and I-45.
One project originally considered in an $88.5 million bond was an extension of Palomino Lane north over Clear Creek. After neighbors protested the $17 million project, staff and City Council removed it from the bond.
Addressing both drainage and traffic problems is important to make League City desirable as it continues to expand and attract new residents, and those who live in League City now will not tolerate time-wasting traffic jams for long, Hallisey said.
“Nobody’s gonna come here if they’re gonna flood [or] if they’re gonna sit an hour in traffic,” he said.
SALES TAX RATE
Most of the Bay Area’s many cities have a sales tax rate of 8.25 percent—the maximum allowed under state law. In those cities, 6.25 percent of the tax goes to the state, and the remaining 2 percent goes to the cities.
However, League City’s sales tax rate is only 8 percent, 1.75 percent of which goes to the city. Voters will decide May 4 whether to increase it to 2 percent.
The city came up with the amount of $145 million for the two bonds because a $0.0025 sales tax rate increase would fund the debt without the need to increase property tax rates, city officials have said. City leaders have promised money generated from the increase would be used only for drainage- and traffic-related projects.
“This is the lightest we could make it on every taxpayer in this town,” Hallisey said. “[A] sales tax [increase] is the least hurtful to each and every one of us.”
League City has tried to increase its sales tax rate at least twice already—once in 2007 and again in 2015. Both attempts lost by a few hundred votes, according to city records.
The Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, which represents nine Bay Area cities, supported League City’s previous attempts to increase its sales tax rate because the increase was proposed for economic development.
The chamber has again supported it the sales tax rate increase this time around, along with the two proposed bonds, according to a chamber press release. Chamber Vice President Shari Sweeney said the chamber supports the sales tax rate increase because it would still help League City’s economic development.
“I think all of those are important to continuing the economic development of any community,” she said. “Any of that really increases what a community can do for the residents and their business.”
A $0.0025 rate increase would likely not be felt by taxpayers because it is a small increase, and most other Bay Area cities already have a maximized sales tax rate, she said.
“I don’t know that anyone would even realize it,” Sweeney said.
Baumgartner said he is not so sure, noting League City residents are fiscally cautious and conscious of every tax dollar they spend.
“We come from a very conservative area,” he said. “A tax is a tax.”
If the bonds pass but the sales tax rate increase fails, it is likely the city will increase its property tax rate to make up the cost, city officials have said.
If the bonds fail, the city could restructure them to be cheaper and go to the voters again. It could pay for some projects in cash, but that would be difficult to accomplish, Baumgartner said.
“We will build the projects … the community supports,” he said.