The court passed a measure by a 3-2 vote—with the three Democratic members voting in favor—at its June 25 meeting to evenly split the sales tax revenue the county receives from the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, also known as METRO. The sales tax revenue is projected to total about $32 million this year, according to METRO’s fiscal year 2019 budget book.
Previously, METRO funds were split based on mobility needs, such as the number of existing and future road projects as well as the amount of taxes a precinct paid to METRO and how much METRO services it received, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said. Precinct 4 pays METRO taxes, but because some parts of the precinct do not receive any service, it received more METRO sales tax revenue, he said.
Under the old formula, Precinct 1 got roughly 20%, Precinct 2 got 15%, Precinct 3 got 32% and Precinct 4—which has 42% of the county’s unincorporated population, according to Cagle—got 33%. The shift would redirect about $4.8 million from precincts 3 and 4, based on METRO’s $32 million projection, pending a reassessment of the county’s mobility needs.
“You have people in … Precinct 4 that do not get METRO services, that pay a tax to go fund people who don’t pay taxes. … That’s just not equitable,” Cagle said.
There are 20 Precinct 4 road projects that are currently in the study or design phase that qualify for METRO funding, and Precinct 4 will need to decide which ones to cut, Cagle said. Projects include extending a portion of Stuebner Airline Road between
FM 2920 and the Grand Parkway as a four-lane concrete section and upgrading a two-lane asphalt section on Gosling Road between West Rayford Road and Creekside Forest Drive to a four-lane concrete boulevard with drainage, said Pamela Rocchi, director of Harris County Precinct 4 Capital Improvement Projects Division.
One of the completed projects that was funded through METRO funds was the widening of Aldine Westfield Road between Louetta Road and Riley Fuzzel Road.
Bobby Lieb, Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce president, voiced his disapproval of how the court approved the measure, saying it should have been studied and backed by data before being brought to court.
“Instead, … they said, ‘We don’t think it’s fair, therefore we’re just going to split it evenly,’” Lieb said.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said part of the reason growth is slower in his precinct is because it does not have the infrastructure to support it, partially due to lack of mobility funding.
Hidalgo, who supported the measure, directed County Engineer John Blount to determine what the mobility assessment would entail.