In Focus

METRO considers axing aid for cities' road maintenance

Friday, May 11, 2012

Millions of you pay sales tax to help fund METRO transit. Many of our cities get some of it back in a refund. METRO is thinking about doing away with it and that would mean higher taxes.

Riders only fund 10 percent of METRO service. The bulk of METRO money comes from sales tax in the city of Houston and 14 other nearby cities. It's one cent of the sales tax.

METRO gives the cities back a quarter of the one-cent sales tax they collect back to Houston and the other member cities and it has for more than a decade. It's money that goes to help build and maintain the roads. But METRO is now thinking about asking voters for permission to end those payments.

Hedwig Village isn't the biggest city around.

"Hedwig Village is about a mile square," Hedwig Village Mayor Sue Speck said.

But losing this METRO mobility money there would be a huge blow.

"We'll either raise taxes 50 percent or we will cut some services," Speck said.

In case you don't believe her, listen closely.

"You're talking about a 50-percent tax raise?" we asked.

"Or more," Speck said.

Which is why she and 13 other small city mayors are opposed to any METRO plan that would eliminate the millions in mobility payouts. On Friday, METRO laid out two scenarios: one would keep the system the same, the other would do away with the payments entirely.

"I've paid my fair share," Missouri City Mayor Allen Owne said.

That second scenario didn't go over well at all.

"I am here to advocate for Rebuild Houston and a compromise position," Houston City Councilman Stephen Costello said.

Costello said the full cut would be devastating to the city's plans to rebuild roads and drainage projects in Houston.

METRO says if the payout system stays the same, it won't be able to expand the light rail until after 2030, that bus service expansions would be limited and the system wouldn't be able to sell new bonds for 15 years.

"We are on sound financial condition in terms of the services we offer today; the question is what expansion we can see in the future, METRO board member Christof Speiler said.

But the cities use the payments for road and mobility projects, more than a billion dollars' worth since 1999.

In Hedwig Village, $7 million of the money upgraded the city's main east-west road, impossible without the METRO payout.

"I think that they're going to deal with us and we're going to come up with a fair compromise," Speck said.

Officially, there is no METRO proposal yet. The agency says it's listening to public opinion. They certainly heard a lot on Friday.

We're not talking about small sums of money. These are the payouts between 1999 and 2011:

  • City of Houston $830 million
  • Harris County - $ 239 million
  • Multi-cities - $209 million
  • Total - $1.278 billion

METRO will ultimately ask you the public to vote, likely in November.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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