Harris County Commissioners in support of Metro referendum

Harris County Commissioners Court approved a resolution Sept. 11 supporting the continuation of Metro's general mobility fund.

Per a 2003 referendum, voters must decide this November whether to continue the program, which was established in 1988 and diverts a quarter of Metro's sales tax collections to its 15 member cities and Harris County to spend on street improvement projects rather than mass transit such as buses or rail lines.

The resolution came several weeks after the Metro board approved two different ballot proposals regarding the mobility program. The first, approved Aug. 3, would have changed the way the money is distributed to the 16 member entities. The proposal that was approved Aug. 17—which will go on the November ballot—keeps the allocation process the same but splits growth in the sales tax revenue between the member cities and Metro.

Representatives from the City of Houston, Metro and Harris County met days before the Aug. 17 vote to come up with the second proposal after the first was met with discontent. Harris County stood to lose about $13 million annually, while the City of Houston would have gained about $30 million more.

"The weekend before the final vote by Metro, I reached out to this court," said Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia. "The call was answered by Commissioner [Steve] Radack late Friday night. What really changed was when he said, 'Gilbert, what does Metro really need?'"

The two primary areas involved paying down Metro's debt and expanding the bus system and shelters, Garcia said.

"That's when things came together and we found a great plan that brings everyone together," he said.

The ballot proposal calls for capping future sales tax allocations at 2014 levels until 2025, splitting up any future growth in the revenue between Metro and its 16 jurisdictions. Metro will be required to spend its share of the growth building new bus shelters, Park and Ride facilities and acquiring 200 new buses. If the referendum fails, the general mobility program would cease to exist after September 2014.

By Marie Leonard
Marie came to Community Impact Newspaper in June 2011 after starting her career at a daily newspaper in East Texas. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Cy-Fair edition for nearly 5 years covering Harris County, Cy-Fair ISD, and local development and transportation news. She then moved to The Woodlands edition and covered local politics and development news in the master-planned community before being promoted to managing editor for the South Houston editions in July 2017.