FORT BEND COUNTY (Covering Katy News) – Following several discussions, two of the largest absentee landowners in the Bessie’s Creek watershed have informed Fort Bend County that they will not voluntarily participate in the creation or development of a Bessie’s Creek Flood Control District. Therefore, as was promised to the community at the Saturday, March 8th meeting in Simonton – the county has decided to step back from any and all efforts to pass legislation that would allow the community the option of creating the special district.
“It is unfair to the taxpayers, in my opinion, to ask local residents to pay for the absentee landowners’ share of the project when those large developments would see significant benefits from any flood mitigation project,” said Commissioner Andy Meyers. “If they refuse to be a partner, or to pay a proportionate share of the cost for a Flood Control District, then there is no way in heck that residents should be asked to carry those costs for them. I understand their resistance to these partnerships, because it bucks the standard practice of expensing their development costs to current and future area taxpayers,” Meyers said.
Meyers indicated that the process has been open and transparent with meetings held in the community that would be served, rather than miles away in conference rooms of Houston Law firms where many Municipality District meetings are held.
“Instead of open discussion in well-attended community meetings, these types of financial decisions for the taxpayers are normally made in the boardrooms of downtown law firms. This proposed Bessie’s Creek Flood Control District has been a wakeup call to the general population about why those “standard practices” are usually made many miles outside of the community,” Commissioner Meyers said.
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In January 2019, Fort Bend County made applications to the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) to seek federal hazard mitigation grants for unincorporated communities that experienced significant damages from flooding over the last five years. An application was submitted for the Bessie’s Creek watershed and is under TDEM review. Any such federal grants under the program, requires a 75-percent – 25 percent split between federal funding and the local match.
With more than 300 special districts and the large number of cities and municipalities in Fort Bend County, it is particularly difficult for the 6 percent of residents in unincorporated Fort Bend County, who do not live in a city or a special district, to compete with the same voice and resources that special districts can utilize. However, as Commissioner Meyers and State Representative Dr. John Zerwas stated in the public meeting, there are several options and parallel tracks available to communities in seeking federal and state grants for flood hazard mitigation.
The decision to create a flood control district and issue debt for the local match is one option used across the majority of Fort Bend County. Such a district would have required local voter approval to create and any bonded indebtedness by that district would have required a public vote in an identical process to existing special districts in the county.
“The County will continue to pursue the federal grant, and we are hopeful that TDEM will respond favorably to the application. We will also continue efforts to get the state and/or the county to fund the 25 percent local match,” Meyers said.
The State Senate has placed Senate Bill 7 on the intent calendar for Tuesday, March 18th, which is a bill that would provide up to $3 billion for covering the local match for flood / hazard mitigation grants.
“If that bill ultimately is signed into law this session, Fort Bend County will pursue funding from this appropriation for the 25 percent local match if the Bessie’s Creek application is successful,” Meyers said.
Commissioner Meyers says the Bessie’s Creek situaiton is an example of the uphill fight faced by people who live in unincorporated areas.
“Our citizens in the unincorporated area deserve to have their ongoing flooding issues addressed in a meaningful and transparent way. The ability of homeowners who are outside of cities and districts, to compete against the large developer-controlled special districts, is becoming an increasing problem to address with the exploding growth and population. My office continues to look for sources of funding and legislation to support their needs and protect their homes and property.”