Voters in Houston and Harris County overwhelmingly supported bond packages totaling nearly $1.7 billion, which will provide for improvements to a range of government services – from roads, parks and trails to public health and wellness to facilities upgrades for police officers, firefighters and court personnel.
All three county bond proposals passed Tuesday by at least 120,000 votes apiece, according to unofficial election results released Wednesday morning by the Harris County Elections Administrator's Office. Voters countywide were asked to provide up to $1.2 billion in taxpayer funding for the three propositions, related to public safety, transportation and parks and trails.
When Samantha Quen, 24, voted at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center in Montrose on election day, she didn't realize there was a bond referendum until she reached the bottom of her ballot. She ended up making a decision on the spot.
"It seemed more like a lump sum fund, right?" Quen said. "What (the bonds were) actually going towards didn’t seem that clear."
This is a sentiment shared by Nancy Sims, a political analyst at the University of Houston. She said the ballot language, particularly on the Harris County bonds, lists vague topics instead of specific projects.
"(The bond questions) pretty much gives you a wide open definition of anything," Sims said. "I could say funding the health department is crime prevention because if we have healthy people, they’re less likely to commit crime."
As a result, people in positions of power are left up to interpret that language and decide how the bond money will be used. Lina Hidalgo won her reelection for Harris County Judge. She campaigned on treating gun violence as a public health issue, targeting high crime areas and a program that sends trained responders to non-violent calls instead of law enforcement.
The bond approval comes after weeks of stalemate on the Commissioner's Court this fall. While working to approve the budget, Republican Commissioners boycotted the meetings, forcing the hand of the Court to adopt a no-new-revenue rate.
Sims said the bonds might make up for some of that lost funding.
"I think that bonds are a workaround with the voting public," Sims said. "In Texas, it’s become such a dirty word to say ‘increase your taxes' in any way, form or fashion."
Each of the seven bond proposals on the ballot for Houston voters – totaling $478 million – also passed by comfortable margins. City voters showed better than 2-to-1 support for six of those propositions, with the request for $29 million for improvements to existing city administration buildings passing by a margin of 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent.
Projects will start moving forward with projects like public safety and parks along with a new animal shelter.
The City of Houston's capital improvement plan is every five years.
Will Jones, Houston's Finance Director, said the bond had to be placed on the November ballot.
"It was kind of expected that we would have to in order to continue our five-year plan," he said.
All seven bond propositions were approved with six of the seven propositions approved by over 60% of voters.
Jones said the bond money will also pay for current city projects that couldn't be funded otherwise.
“Some of those projects throughout the city would have to either be delayed or postponed until we could find other funding sources to be able to pay for those projects," Jones said.
More than half of the city's bond – $277 million – that 68% of voters approved, goes towards public safety projects.
"The facilities for our firefighters, our police officers, those facilities can be maintained which of course is important – public safety is the top priority," said Jones.
The passage of the seven bond propositions will also fund parks and give $50 million to Houston's animal shelter, BARC, which Jones says has dealt with a recent surge of stray animals.
"It means that we have the ability to build a facility that can better accommodate the needs of animal care here in the city," he said. "Right now we know that we don't have enough capacity, so with the passage of that bond it does allow us to expand our capacity.”
The bonds will be issued sometime next year.
Below is a breakdown of each of the approved bond proposals, according to information provided by the city and county.
Proposition A: The issuance of $100 million in public safety bonds for land acquisition, facilities construction or improvements and technology upgrades for law enforcement, county courtrooms and data systems used for court management and crime prevention.
Proposition B: Up to $900 million in road bonds for construction and maintenance of transportation and stormwater drainage infrastructure, including roadways for vehicles as well as facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit users.
Proposition C: The issuance of $200 million in parks bonds for new construction and/or maintenance of park facilities and trails, including floodable parks and inclusive parks for those with disabilities.
City of Houston
Proposition A: Up to $277 million in public improvement bonds for facilities acquisition, construction and rehabilitation, along with equipment, for the city's police and fire departments.
Proposition B: The issuance of $60 million in bonds for the conservation, acquisition, construction and improvement of neighborhood parks and trails along with other recreational facilities.
Proposition C: Up to $47 million in public improvement bonds for building construction and renovation along with equipment for animal care purposes and BARC, the city's animal shelter.
Proposition D: The issuance of $30 million in bonds for the acquisition, construction and rehabilitation of city-owned buildings and facilities to support and provide public health and wellness services.
Proposition E: The issuance of $29 million in bonds for construction, rehabilitation and equipment for existing city administrative buildings and facilities.
Proposition F: Up to $26 million in bonds for the city's public library system and facilities, to be used on land acquisition, construction, renovations and equipment.
Proposition G: The issuance of $6 million in bonds for facilities and equipment improvements for the city's Solid Waste Management Department, which handles garbage and recycling pickup.
This story was updated on 11/11/22 at 9:17 a.m.