Harris County Commissioners Court established an $833 million flood resilience trust at its June 29 meeting as a means of filling the funding gap the Harris County Flood Control District is currently facing with regard to its $2.5 billion bond program approved by voters in 2018.

As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, the 2018 bond program was created and presented to voters as being composed of $2.5 billion in flood control district bonds plus an additional $2.5 billion from planned federal, state and local partners. However, the Harris County Budget Office presented data March 9 revealing a $1.3 billion shortfall in funds needed to complete all of the flood mitigation projects included in the 2018 bond program, due largely in part to a lack of partner funds.

At the time, the court directed the flood control district and budget office to return in June with a plan for funding and equitable development of the 2018 bond program.

While the flood control district and Harris County Commissioners Court have chipped away at the funding gap over the last several months through a variety of tactics, $951 million in unmet needs remain as of late June.

"We've done pretty good, I'd like to think, by securing $1.25 billion in partner funding. But we have a long way to go still," interim HCFCD Executive Director Alan Black said at the June 29 meeting.

Upon return to the court at the June 29 meeting, the flood control district outlined an updated funding plan for the 2018 bond program with the following key recommendations:

  • continue aggressively pursuing partner funds, including additional federal funding sources, to meet Harris County's overall needs, but not at the expense of delaying or reducing the scope of priority projects;

  • continue the bipartisan political push to assure that the Texas General Land Office delivers a minimum of $750 million of 2018 Harvey Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds to Harris County;

  • direct funds, including $315 million in funding approved by the court in April, to a flood resilience trust to backstop the 2018 bond program and provide for flood control needs beyond the bond program;

  • designate $40 million per year of new mobility funds for the flood resilience trust on an annual basis; and

  • expand the prioritization framework to include all projects with missing partner funding and allocate funds from the flood resilience trust.

See the executive summary of the full presentation below:

Similarly, the budget department recommended the following actions:

  • create the Harris County Flood Resilience Trust, a source of county-controlled funds for flood control;

  • direct the specific previously approved funding be allocated to the flood resilience trust;

  • increase the annual mobility transfer from the Harris County Toll road Authority by approximately 25% ($40 million) beginning in fiscal year 2023, and transfer these additional funds to the flood resilience trust to be used for projects with the statutorily required transportation nexus;

  • for bond program projects with the required transportation nexus, authorize the budget management department to substitute mobility funds from the flood resilience trust for programmed flood bond capacity, with the freed-up bond capacity returned to the trust;

  • authorize the flood control district to expand the prioritization framework adopted by the Commissioners Court to include all watershed-specific bond program projects; and

  • use the expanded prioritization framework to allocate funds from the flood resilience trust to bond program projects, which need funding to avoid delays and reach completion.

See the full letter of recommendations below:

Upon implementation, county officials said the key recommendations are expected to fully fund and ensure equitable progress across the 2018 bond program while also laying the groundwork for the district's needs beyond the 2018 bond program.

The court unanimously approved both updated funding plans for the 2018 bond program.

"With this flood resilience trust, we're taking money that we could have used on other projects—flood mitigation projects or transportation projects—but because the GLO put the screws to us with money that was not theirs; it was federal money, we have to create this trust to make up [the funding] if we don't get it [from the GLO]," Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said. "We are robbing Peter to pay Paul because we have not gotten the money from the GLO."

Additionally, following the June 11 announcement that Russ Poppe would be resigning from his position as executive director of the HCFCD this month, the court unanimously voted to appoint Black as the district's interim executive director effective July 3. The court also directed county officials to launch an expedited national search to hire a permanent executive director for the flood control district.