Most Harris County residents want to see changes in flood-prone areas, but they don’t want higher taxes to pay for it, according to a survey released Monday by the University of Houston.
Nearly six months after the storm that submerged her Denver Harbor neighborhood for the second time, a new car and repaired home are helping Dulce Martinez feel normal again.
“It feels good going back to your home, sleep in your own bed,” said Martinez, who moved back into her mother-in-law’s Harvey-damaged home in January.
Martinez’s current fear: if and when the area will see another storm like Harvey.
She’s not alone: UH and Rice researchers polled 2,002 people by telephone in Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Montgomery counties in November and December 2017.
In Harris County alone, more than 80 percent of respondents told poll-takers they wanted tougher development standards and new flood control projects. Nearly two-thirds said they wanted buyouts in areas that have suffered repeated flooding, and more than three-quarters want the government to pay for flood damage resulting from reservoir releases.
However, only 46 and 45 percent said they were willing to pay more property tax or sales tax, respectively. Researchers say political party and ethnicity factored into those responses.
“We’ve never had this kind of early support, and we’re talking 12, 25, 50 dollar a year increases in property taxes,” said Bob Stein, KHOU 11 Political Analyst.
Stein, one of the Rice professors that helped UH with the survey, said given the state’s conservative nature, he’s surprised at how many people were willing to stomach higher taxes.
“If you take the long perspective here and you look at the people that vote, this is an unusual change,” said Stein. “I’ve done polling in this city for 35, 40 years.”
Stein says differing opinions among Republican party leaders will present challenges going forward. He points to Governor Greg Abbott, who wants to lower property taxes, and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who wants a bond proposal for flood control projects that could potentially raise taxes.
“I just hope it doesn’t increase our taxes,” said Martinez, speaking generally about future flood control projects.
However, George Pesina, who lives near Martinez and suffered similar flooding during Harvey, told KHOU he wouldn’t mind some tax increase if it means potentially preventing another flood like the one his family experienced in August.
Joe Stinebaker, Director of Communications for Judge Emmett, called the survey “enormously vague”.
“One major flaw in the survey is that unlike a county bond issue, it does not present to voters specific amounts and specific projects,” said Stinebaker, who said comparing the two scenarios was “completely apples and oranges”.
Stinebaker said Judge Emmett would answer questions regarding the survey and a potential bond election on Tuesday after the Harris County Commissioners’ regular meeting.