KAEDC works to coordinate local MUDs

Numerous MUDs provide services to people living in Katy area communities

Although one may have a Katy address and call Katy home, the majority of people in the Katy area do not live in the city.

Most people in the Katy area live in a municipal utility district, or MUD.

MUDs are quasi-governmental organizations that provide water, drainage, roads and other essential services to an unincorporated area to allow development to occur there.

According to Rick Lawler of the Katy Area Economic Development Council, there are 87 MUDs operating in the organization's service area.

"We have Fort Bend, Waller and Harris counties all coming into the Katy area," he said.

Lawler is the director of the KAEDC's Katy Area District Council, which was formed in 2011 to help improve communication and cooperation between the MUDs and other special use districts in the area. The district council meets the first Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at various locations.

Lawler said getting local MUDs in the council to coordinate efforts in emergency service response was a priority for him, especially after seeing the response when Hurricane Ike hit the area in 2008.

"We needed to do more to really help our neighbors," he said.

What a MUD does

A typical MUD has four primary functions: water, sewer and drainage; parks and recreation; fire fighting; and roads. Created under Chapter 54 of the Texas Water Code, a MUD is authorized by either the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the state Legislature to provide those services as well as landscaping of common areas. They are funded by levying taxes and issuing bonds.

Katy Finance Director Byron Hebert said some MUDs have a lower property tax rate than Katy, but some are higher, too.

"You might be in a MUD district that pays a higher rate than 58 cents [per $100 valuation, as assessed by Katy]," he said.

Beyond core services, MUDs also help beautify a community through recreation projects. That includes landscaping and maintenance, sidewalks, community pools, playgrounds, etc.

Money spent on those services must be approved with governmental steps to ensure they are being well spent, just like a municipality.

MUDs have a board of directors that runs the MUD like a city council, approving water and sewer plant contracts, selling bonds, and ensuring contractors do their jobs.

Residents pay a MUD tax that includes funds for both maintenance and operations and a bond tax. The M&O rate provides money for maintaining the system. The bond tax is used to pay back the bonds originally used to build the system. The daily costs of operating the systems, including the water and wastewater plants, are covered by homeowners' monthly water bills.

Land within a city's corporate city limits or extraterritorial jurisdiction cannot be made into a MUD without the local government's consent. Once an agreement is reached with the city, a majority of property owners in a given area must provide a petition to TCEQ, including a description of the proposed MUD boundaries, the nature of the improvements they intend to make, the cost of the project and a , proposed name.

MUDs also have the authority to enter into Strategic Partnership Agreements with cities and counties for the purposes of collecting and sharing sales taxes. Most Katy area MUDs have such agreements with Houston because they are located in Houston's extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Council projects

One of the first projects the Katy Area District Council took on was helping MUDs carry out projects designated in the $29 million Willow Fork Drainage District bond election in 2010. The drainage district manages nearly 30 miles of drainage channels south of Katy in the Cinco Ranch, Falcon Ranch, Kelliwood and Canyon Gate communities.

Through the bond, 10 Katy ISD schools are getting new school-based community parks, LaCenterra received a public outdoor festival venue, improvements are being made to a park off Westheimer Parkway, and trails and sidewalks are being extended throughout the area, including links to George Bush Park.

"We have a very aggressive program to extend trails and parks to LaCenterra on the Grand Parkway," he said.