At the Nov. 12 Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority and Tax Increment Zone No. 10 (TIRZ) meeting, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin explained a backup plan to acquire land needed to accomplish flood mitigation north of Kingwood if current efforts with Harris County are unsuccessful. Currently the City of Houston has been working with the Harris County Commissioners Court to jointly share in the project and those efforts are still underway. However, the approvals needed from the commissioners are languishing to the point where Martin thinks they may not be approved anytime soon. Meanwhile the threat of flooding remains.
“If anyone has been paying attention to the Harris County Commissioners Court lately, this agenda item always comes up and they never seem to move forward on it. We reached agreement with them literally six months ago on the purchase price of $14 million where the city would pay for half and the county would pay for half and the county would use their dollars for the remediation side of it,” Martin said.
He explained that Houston officials, in the absence of a formal agreement with Harris County, wondered what could be done with the land if they go ahead and acquire it without an agreement. That includes an answer as to how to fund those efforts.
“We put out an application to the Texas Water Development Board for money to do the remediation on the land and we received word back that we have received a $30 million loan which is payable over 30 years, interest free.” Martin said. He pointed out it is a loan, not a grant, and so must be paid back over time.
“My opinion is that a $30 million loan at zero interest over 30 years is a no brainer,” he said.
Martin said that accepting the loan means the city must have a plan for how it will pay it back. Working with Stan Sarman, chair of TIRZ, Martin did some “what if” scenarios about how to do it. One way to do it that can make it work is to assign responsibility for the loan to TIRZ which requires an increase to its authorized loan capacity and an extension of its current loan authority.
Martin emphasized that even though they have figured out to do it if necessary, he is still hopeful Harris County will agree to the current plan that is already awaiting their action, one way or the other. This alternative plan will work if they do not and he wants it ready and available in case they need it because, as he said, “The Commissioners Court seems to change its mind from one day to another. We are going to move forward with the ability to purchase but, long story short, we are trying to cobble together as many dollars as we can to help those people on the north side of Harris County, the north side of Kingwood so they don’t flood again. We think we have options available in case Harris County Commissioners Court decides they don’t want to be involved in the remediation.”
He said the goal is to protect the areas like St. Martha’s Church and all the areas in the north of Kingwood like Elm Grove Village that flooded not from the rain they received but from the water flooding in from the north. From a TIRZ and community standpoint, that may involve postponing some other projects including the extension of Mills Branch and some of the planned intersection improvements, he said.
Sarman pointed out that if this option is used, TIRZ will have to take a number of steps to enable it to happen in addition to having its authority extended another five years in order to commit to the loan. He said that although several projects may have to be delayed, the major Northpark improvement projects, including the overpass and the reconstruction of the road to add additional lanes, are already funded and will not be affected. In addition, the newly purchased land will have to be annexed and the land encompassing Taylor’s Gully will have to be included in the TIRZ area of responsibility. The total TIRZ budget and capital plan will also need to be adjusted accordingly. These issues will be discussed and acted on as required beginning with the next meeting.
The next Lake Houston TIRZ 10 meeting will be Dec. 10 at 8 a.m. as a teleconference call. The public is invited.