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. Tomball-area projects include extending Stuebner Airline Road between FM 2920 and Hwy. 99, and widening projects on Hufsmith-Kohrville, Hufsmith, Boudreaux and Telge roads as well as North Eldridge Parkway, said Pamela Rocchi, director of Harris County Precinct 4 Capital Improvement Projects Division.
Past projects funded by METRO funds include those on Telge, Hufsmith-Kohrville between Spring Cypress Road and Hollow Glen Lane, and the bridge over Little Cypress Creek.
Bruce Hillegeist, Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce president, said he believes there should have been a study done prior to the funding changes, as about 72% of Precinct 4 lies in unincorporated territory.
“To have funds cut that [our unincorporated area] depends on just does not seem logical or fair,” Hillegeist 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.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who supported the measure, directed County Engineer John Blount to determine what the mobility assessment would entail.