Fort Bend County places flood bond referendum on November 2019 ballot

Image description
Fort Bend County puts flood bond referendum on ballot
Image description
Fort Bend County puts flood bond referendum on ballot
Image description
Fort Bend County puts flood bond referendum on ballot
Image description
Fort Bend County puts flood bond referendum on ballot
Image description
Fort Bend County puts flood bond referendum on ballot
Image description
Fort Bend County puts flood bond referendum on ballot
Image description
Fort Bend County puts flood bond referendum on ballot
For the first time in about 70 years, Fort Bend County residents will vote Nov. 5 on an $82.9 million bond referendum to fund up to 25 flood mitigation and drainage projects, including several in the Katy area.

The last time a flood bond referendum was brought to the voters was in the 1950s, when the Fort Bend County Drainage District was established, said Mark Vogler, the Fort Bend County Drainage District chief engineer.

If passed, no tax rate increase is expected, and it will help the county leverage $186 million in federal funds for a total project benefit of $268.9 million, County Auditor Ed Sturdivant said. If the referendum does not pass, the county will continue with the projects and find other ways to pay for the local match, he said.

“We can do it,” Sturdivant said, referring to finding other ways to fund the local match of the flood bond projects. “But it would be painful. … People may get laid off, and there would be a decrease of county services.”

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Andy Meyers said he is cautiously optimistic that the bond will pass. But if voters do not approve the bond, the county will deal with that situation as needed, he said.

“A lot of people remember Harvey,” he said. “But we didn’t only have a ’17 flood with Harvey, we had a ’15 and ’16 floods, too. … [We’ve] had some major damages to our infrastructure, and so we have to [spend] a lot of money trying to fix that.”

Funding projects


The county selected most of the proposed projects based on federal grants, which often pay for the majority of a project’s cost so long as the local entity promises to fund the remainder of the bill, Vogler said.

Fort Bend County Judge KP George emphasized none of the bond projects are new.

“When it comes to a flood bond, it is based on our need and based on our projects, and so nothing [is] decided overnight,” he said.

The grants and bond money to pay for the local match are needed because the FBCDD is spending down its fund balance on projects, Vogler said.

According to Fort Bend County’s latest Hurricane Harvey County Damage Summary, the 2017 storm cost about $80 million in damages. The county has spent about $18 million so far to supply the local match portion of various federal grants, Sturdivant said.

“We’re not in bad standing, it’s just we’re getting into a gray area,” Vogler said about the FBCDD. “So what the [commissioners] want to do is this [bond]: to borrow this money to facilitate these projects, and we can pay it over time.”

Local projects


In the Katy area, bond referendum projects totaling $11.3 million are improving Willow Fork of Buffalo Bayou.

Between the city of Katy and the Grand Parkway, the county is repairing erosion on Willow Fork, Vogler said. Crews finished desilting the channel in mid-October between the Grand Parkway and inside the Barker Reservoir, he added.

About $1 million of the proposed bond will go toward Cane Island Branch. Phase 1 of erosion repairs started this summer, and design work started for Phase 2, Vogler said.

About $800,000 of the bond monies would go toward repairing Peek Road bridges crossing over Willow Fork, and about $185,000 will help the county repair a maintenance building at Freedom Park, located at 18050 Westheimer Parkway, Houston, and damaged by floodwaters.

Countywide projects proposed in the bond include installing rain gauges in cooperation with the Harris County Flood Control District, Vogler said. These gauges would provide real-time data to residents about rainfall incidents online.

Additionally, about $3 million of the bond referendum is for the county’s watershed study, a project that began in mid-2018 and is expected to be completed at the end of 2020, Vogler said.

The study is examining the county’s streams, creeks, bayous and infrastructure, and it will provide a cost estimate of various projects the county can pursue to improve the county’s flood mitigation and drainage.

Public support


Fort Bend County’s $82.9 million flood mitigation bond is a change from the proposed $237 million facilities bond— which included $100 million for flood projects—initially discussed by commissioners earlier this summer.

This decision to change the referendum’s focus from facilities to flood was prompted by discussions with residents, homeowners associations and local officials, Commissioners Vincent Morales of Precinct 1 and Ken DeMerchant of Precinct 4 said when announcing the switch  Aug. 1.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers’ office hosted citizen feedback meetings and a resident survey to gauge voters’ support for facilities, mobility and flood mitigation bonds.

After receiving 298 survey responses, the county found there was support for a facilities bond, but there was more support for a flood mitigation bond.

When respondents were asked to select up to three bond referendums they would support, 81% supported flood mitigation, 54% supported mobility, 30% supported a facilities bond, and 11% said they would not support any.

Dennis Silva, a city of Katy resident, said he understood the county’s needs for drainage projects and he supported it.

“We need to be more forward thinking, and that’s what this bond does: Be more proactive instead of reactive,” he said.

More bond referendums


If the November bond referendum fails, the county will likely continue with the projects but at a slower pace, Sturdivant said. The projects will take longer to complete, and construction costs will increase.

“Even though there’s an interest component with debt, it doesn’t come close to the increased costs of construction for these projects,” he said.

He said the county will likely place a mobility bond referendum on the November 2020 ballot. And if the watershed study is completed by mid-2020, then the county may return to voters for additional bond money to fund more drainage projects.

Sturdivant said the county can issue up to $450 million in debt over the next five years without a tax rate increase.

The facilities bond has been put on hold. However, the commissioners did approve a resolution Sept. 24 to advance $1.2 million to begin designing a new emergency operations center, which was part of the proposed facilities bond referendum proposed in the summer. The existing emergency management center, located at 307 Fort St., Richmond, is in need of repairs, officials have said.

“The commissioners ... will have an action plan,” Sturdivant said. “If something happens—a disaster or a hurricane—and we’re not prepared, then we’re doing the public a disservice.”
By Jen Para
Jen joined Community Impact Newspaper in fall 2018 as the editor of the Katy edition. She covers education, transportation, local government, business and development in the Katy area.


MOST RECENT

Attendees sample a wide variety of global wines and cuisine during Wine & Food Week. (Courtesy Food & Vine Time Productions)
Wine & Food Week returns to The Woodlands and more news from the Houston area

Read business and community news from the Houston area.

The number of deaths reported has been declining for the past three week, according to the Texas Medical Center. (Community Impact staff)
Texas Medical Center: COVID-19 hospitalizations down 10% since Aug. 3

The number of deaths reported has been declining for the past three week, according to the Texas Medical Center.

Harris County leaders discussed this week whether to raise or lower property taxes. (Courtesy Fotolia)
UPDATED: Harris Co. commissioners eyeing property tax rates

This article was updated Aug. 8 to clarify that an 8% tax rate increase is not considered to be on the table by commissioners.

Cy-Fair ISD will offer in-person instruction in addition to a learning-from-home option in 2020-21. (Design by Katherine Borey/Community Impact Newspaper)
40K Katy ISD students choose to stay home and learn virtually

Superintendent Kenneth Gregorski said children can learn virtually for a grading period or the entire school year if the parents choose to do so.

Fort Bend County has a total of 8,878 coronavirus cases as of Aug. 6. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
With change in reporting system, Fort Bend County coronavirus cases count grows by 1,687 in 4 days

A change in the coronavirus case tracking system and an influx of data from a local hospital and lab resulted in higher-than-before numbers of newly reported cases this week.

About 32% of those screened by Mental Health America chose loneliness or social isolation as one of three main contributors to their mental health concerns. (Nola Z. Valente/Community Impact Newspaper)
COVID-19 is increasing time spent on social media, affecting mental health, experts say

Americans have been spending more of their lives online since the coronavirus outbreak forced bars, restaurants and movie theaters to close in March.

A mother and daughter visit at Seasons Assisted Living & Memory Care in Conroe earlier in the pandemic. (Courtesy Seasons Assisted Living & Memory Care)
Texas allows limited visitations to nursing homes, long-term care facilities

Facilities that meet the requirements will allow limited visitations, but you still will not be able to hug or kiss your loved one.

HomeAid Houston partnered with Boys and Girls Country to open three cottages in Hockley. (Courtesy Boys and Girls Country)
Builders partner to serve homeless population through nonprofit HomeAid Houston

Since launching in 2003, the organization has helped provide 20,000 beds for homeless individuals in the Houston area.

The 2020 U.S. census response rate is already lagging behind 2010 numbers, and officials said the shortened timeline only increases the chances of an undercount. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Shortened census timeline could shortchange Houston, its most vulnerable communities

The 2020 U.S. census response rate is already lagging behind 2010 numbers, and officials said the shortened timeline only increases the chances of an undercount.

The farm-to-table restaurant plans to create 90 jobs and offer familiar American meals. (Courtesy Whiskey Cake)
Whiskey Cake restaurant to open in The Woodlands and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.