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Houston Councilmembers Vote to Earmark Funds for Special Projects

The projects must be related to street repairs and drainage improvements.

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Rebuild Houston is the city’s dedicated pay as you go street and drainage fund. It imposes a fee on Houston residents and is supposed to pay to fix the city’s worst streets first without incurring debt. But in the meantime, other roads are rapidly deteriorating while they wait in line for funding.

So Councilmembers Brad Bradford and Jerry Davis came up with the idea to pull as much as $6 million from Rebuild Houston to evenly distribute to district councilmembers so they can use the money for minor street projects in their districts. Davis calls it a way to strengthen the brand of Rebuild Houston by getting smaller projects done faster.

“This is an opportunity through our super neighborhoods, our civic clubs, our churches, that we get the information out when they ask us to do something we’re going to try to get it done in a short amount of time,” Davis said.

That led to an hour-long spirited debate at the city council meeting over how best to spend the money. There’s currently about $100 million in the Rebuild Houston fund. Should a portion of it go to councilmembers, or should it all be left up to the public works department?

The proposal did not go over well with Councilmember Stephen Costello, who was one of the architects of the Rebuild Houston program. He says the funds should be left alone.

“We have plenty of people out there that do not trust municipal government. We have plenty of people out there who believe that this program, Rebuild Houston, we’re using it to pay overhead and we’re not doing what we need to be doing. This program needs to be out of the political arena,” Costello said.

Costello says when voters approved Rebuild Houston, they never perceived that the money could be handed over to individual councilmembers. He argues that although the plan is legal, it doesn’t look right. But he was roundly defeated in a 15-2 vote and the $6 million will be equally split between the city’s eleven district councilmembers. Houston Mayor Annise Parker points out that only works out to about $500,000 per district.

“One of the challenges for councilmembers is managing expectations. A little more than half a million dollars out of DDSRF funds is not going to pave a whole lot of streets,” Parker said.

The money is likely to pay for a sidewalk or pothole repair here and there. But really what it does is give district councilmembers the power, however small, to get some projects pushed to the front of the line.

 

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Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

News Director

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez leads news coverage for Houston Public Media across broadcast and digital platforms. Ramirez is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Before becoming News Director, Ramirez held the position of Executive Producer for Daily News, leading daily and breaking news coverage, helping...

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