Houston court rules city violated charter, misallocated street and drainage funds

The 14th Court of Appeals held Tuesday that the City of Houston violated the Houston City Charter, according to a release. 

The release stated that the city "unlawfully misallocated funds intended for streets and drainage infrastructure projects."

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The lawsuit, which was brought by engineers Bob Jones and Allen Watson, alleged that city officials were not following an amendment to the city charter that required the city to allocate certain funds to a "lockbox" to be used solely for streets and drainage projects. 

That amendment received 74% approval from voters back in November 2018. 

According to the release, "While the charter amendment required the city to allocate "an amount equivalent to 11.8 cents" of the city’s property tax levy, the city took the position that a revenue cap contained elsewhere in the charter allowed the city to allocate a lesser amount—what it labelled a "11.8 cents equivalent."

The court said the city's "11.8 cents equivalent" methodology violated the charter, noting that it had already resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars unlawfully withheld form streets and drainage projects - an amount that would have resulted in a "shortfall of several billion dollars" to the street and drainage fund in the coming years. 

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In a statement regarding the ruling, Jones and Watson said, "We are pleased to see the Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirm our position that the City of Houston violated the 2018 voter-approved charter amendment and has been illegally withholding hundreds of millions of dollars from the Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund. The City of Houston must now follow what Houstonians voted for and approved in 2018, forcing this illegal practice to cease."

On Tuesday evening, FOX 26 received a statement from Houston Mayor John Whitmire regarding the decision. 

He says, "I certainly agree the City must invest more to address our infrastructure needs, but I don’t believe Houstonians would elect to do that through a court’s order that funds drainage infrastructure at the expense and sacrifice of public safety or quality of life services. While I recognize and campaigned on the importance of drainage infrastructure, I don’t believe drainage infrastructure should compete with public safety funding. This shows again the need for us to have a grown-up discussion about the short- and long-term condition of City finances, which I inherited, and we should not continue to kick this can down the road."