The fate of a decades-old program run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County will be in the hands of voters in the form of a ballot referendum in the Nov. 6 general election.
Since 1988, Metro has set aside 25 percent of its sales tax collections into its general mobility fund, which is divvied up between the organization’s 16 member cities, including the City of Katy and Harris County. The money is used for transportation projects and local road improvements, as opposed to mass transit such as buses or rail lines.
The program has helped pay for several recent transportation projects in the Katy area, including a portion of Katy Fort Bend Road from I-10 to Colonial Parkway.
“We get approximately $4.2 million a year in mobility money,” said Katy Mayor Don Elder Jr. “It’s very important to us because as Katy has grown, so has the need for more lanes through Katy on a lot of our streets.”
Over the next year, portions of the future Cane Island Parkway and Katyland Drive projects will be paid for using the fund. If the referendum is not approved in November, the general mobility program will cease to exist after September 2014.
“We’d probably have to raise taxes [if the referendum fails,]” Elder said. “Right now, that’s not what anyone wants.”
The city could also go to the legislature and attempt to opt out of Metro.
“There is no point in paying Metro [sales tax] if we don’t get benefits from transit,” said Johnny Nelson, city administrator.
The Metro board was required to call a referendum on the general mobility fund for no later than spring 2013, per the last referendum in 2003. The proposal calls for leaving in place the current allocation process for divvying up general mobility funds between the member entities. It also caps future allocations at 2014 levels until 2025, splitting up any future growth in the sales tax revenue between Metro and its 15 member cities and Harris County.
Per the referendum, Metro will be required to spend its share of the extra sales tax collections on efforts related to furthering ridership such as acquiring 200 additional buses, constructing up to 1,000 additional bus shelters and the addition of new Park and Ride facilities, bus transit centers and bus operating facilities. Some of the money will also be spent on paying down the organization’s debt.
Although the proposal does not allocate money to future rail lines, Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia said the first step toward fully implementing rail plans from the 2003 referendum—which called for the completion of four new lines, three of which are nearing completion—is building more community support.