Residents could face a 5-cent tax rate increase if the city council Monday signs off on an advisory committee’s recommendations to call for about $80 million in bond propositions for a November referendum.
Although the council on Monday could alter recommendations or decline to call for the referendum, the city’s citizens’ advisory committee has recommended five propositions for drainage, parks, public safety, transportation and civic center improvements totaling about $80.4 million — a proposal that could mean an average yearly tax increase of $119.50 on a $296,900 home, according to city documents.
If approved in total, the propositions could increase the city’s property tax rate to 58.27 cents on every $100 of taxable value, up from 53.24 cents, city documents show.
“I’m hopeful that the city council will accept the recommendation, or at least for the most part, that the committee gave and put it on the ballot” said Ron Cox, a Friendswood resident and head of the advisory committee. “We’ll never know how the citizens feel until you ask them to vote on it. That’s all you can do.”
If the council does call for the bond referendum, Friendswood will become the latest community to call for extra spending on drainage improvements since Hurricane Harvey dropped more than 50 inches of rain on some parts of Galveston County in late August 2017.
And that was on the minds of the 50 members of the advisory committee from the beginning, Cox said.
“We agreed that that is an important item to be placed on the ballot,” he said. “That alone covers more than 50 percent of the total bond amount. If you take that off the table, the remaining amount is not much more than previous bond issues that the city has asked for.”
City administrators have been talking about the possibility of a bond referendum since at least January. A drainage committee in April recommended spending $32 million on drainage projects to reduce Harvey-like flooding, mainly by improving flow along Clear Creek by de-snagging, creating a terrace along the banks and raising the bridge at FM 2351.
Though those projects did make it into the newest recommendations, the citizens’ advisory committee ultimately asked for $49.4 million to be allocated for drainage improvements, in part so that city administrators would be less dependent outside entities for additional funding, Councilman Steve Rockey said.
“The big question there is how much of the cost should come from our own citizens versus how much should we leverage other agencies?” Rockey said.
In addition to a drainage improvement proposition, the committee also recommends a $7.7 million bond issue for a civic center that could also serve as a hurricane shelter; $9.1 million for public safety improvements, including a reconstruction of the city’s fire station No. 2 and the next phase of the public safety building; $6.5 million for parks improvements, including upgrades to older parks and a rehabilitation of the city pool; and $7.6 million for transportation improvements, citywide sidewalk improvements and adding turning lanes on several streets, among other projects, documents show.
That would be one of the first major tax increase in some time for the city of Friendswood, Rockey argued.
“When I started on council back in 2012, the tax rate was 59 cents per hundred,” Rockey said. “Now it’s 53. At the same time, property values are up, so I’m not sure residents quite see it that way.”
But there’s also a chance that residents might not see a 5-cent increase even if the bond propositions are approved in full, Rockey said.
Voters in 2013 approved four bond propositions totaling about $24 million to spend on several projects.
At the time, city administrators estimated those propositions would come with a 5-cent tax increase, but residents ultimately saw a decrease, Rockey said.
“What might forestall some of this is that the drainage money will take 15 years to spend, though the other projects will be done in three or four or five years,” he said.
Though Cox was hesitant Wednesday to predict what voters might think of such a bond proposition, he did say everyone on the committee agreed the needs were there. And there is some recent nearby precedent that residents might favor the proposal.
League City voters in May overwhelmingly approved a pair of bond packages, valued at $145 million, to pay for major flood control and road projects, the city’s first propositions in 27 years.
The deadline to place an item on the November ballot is Aug. 19.