Down the drain
A proposal by Nueces County officials to create a countywide drainage taxing district drew sharp criticism from Port Aransas City Manager Michael Kovacs and prompted the city council to vote unanimously against the idea.
"We're not here to talk about raising taxes or a vote to approve a plan. I'm here to inform you that we hope to get enabling legislation. This is an opportunity for us if we can come together across Nueces County to put to the citizens a vote to enable us to deal with a very serious problem in Nueces County," County Judge Loyd Neal told the city council on Thursday, Jan. 15.
Neal explained to the council that an opportunity exists to push enabling legislation to set up a vote for a drainage district during the Texas legislative session that convened last week.
He said drainage is a serious problem in the county, with several watersheds funneling stormwater to the Chapman Ranch area.
"We are losing millions of dollars in topsoil every time it rains in Nueces County," Neal told the council.
John Michael, an engineer with Naismith Engineering, said his firm is completing a master drainage plan, but without a funding mechanism, it very likely would sit on a shelf gathering dust.
"It's hard to talk about drainage while we are in a drought. But water does not respect political boundaries. The time is going to come again," Michael said.
But Kovacs had already briefed the city council with several criticisms of the county's proposal in a brief on a resolution that signaled the city's opposition to a drainage district.
The first critique concerned the suggested tax rate of 10 cents per $100 valuation in property taxes.
"The 10 cent tax implication of the new district could raise the combined tax rate for our city from $1.83 to $1.93 (includes school district, county and city rates) and amounts to $250 more a year for a $250,000 home," Kovacs wrote.
"Judging from the projects alluded to in the Robstown and Chapman Ranch areas, it is unlikely the city will receive any direct benefits," he continued.
Kovacs spoke about an existing "unusual and pervasive policy stance by the Nueces County Commissioners Court to favor one region of the county over others. The Robstown area receives support such as a county operated library, fairgrounds and now a drainage district.
"The county's proposed drainage district policy discounts the fact that most citizens and taxpayers live in the urbanized areas of Corpus Christi and its neighboring cities, such as Port Aransas. By focusing on unincorporated rural interests and those of a single city (Robstown), the county is misdirecting its focus from the majority of the population, and especially the ones that pay the bills," Kovacs wrote.
Kovacs also told the council that improving channels to drain rural runoff will increase the speed and volune of water entering Oso and Corpus Christi bay watersheds, which will increase water degradation with bacteria, nitrates and pesticides.
The city manager also argued that drainage improvements and housing development should be focused in urban areas such as Corpus Christi rather than in open space and farmland.
"New land for development should not be made more attractive, at a cost to taxpayers, by providing drainage assistance in flood prone areas. By advocating for drainage in these areas, the county is moving in the opposite direction of smart growth," Kovacs said.
According to the resolution, the city not only is opposed to the proposed taxing district, it will lobby State Rep. Todd Hunter and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa to defeat the proposed legislation unless Port Aransas is exempted in the bill's wording.
"We're not struggling with drainage, we've addressed it. We're now working on cleaning up our drainage before we put it into the bay," Councilman Rick Pratt said.
"I've had enough of our money going out of this community. I am adamantly opposed to this," Councilman Mike Hall said.
Councilwoman Glenda Balentine was absent during the Jan. 15 council meeting, but she had previously said that she was opposed to a countywide drainage district with taxing powers.