Photo by Marie Leonard
Unincorporated Harris County residents receive water and sewer services through hundreds of municipal utility districts, but future legislation could allow MUDs to also pay for road improvement projects.
Some MUDs in newer communities already have the authority to complete road infrastructure improvements, but older MUDs do not, making it hard for older areas to compete with new homebuyers.
“A lot of the subdivisions along FM 1960 anticipated when they were built that they would be annexed,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. “Over the years it hasn’t occurred, and in the meantime, a lot of those streets have begun to fall into disrepair.”
Communities built in the 1970s are most affected by the issue, said Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle.
“They are safe roads, but residents want them to be nice boulevards,” he said. “If they were dangerous, the county would take care of it—we are not doing cosmetic improvements now as long as [roads] are safe and able to function the way they need too.”
Even though the county has limited resources, Cagle said if certain subdivisions want to use their money to pay for improvements, they should have that right via the MUDs, which are governed by boards of elected officials.
“As a county commissioner, I stand ready to do repairs on those roads in the county log, but I’m not trying to push road responsibility off on anyone else,” Cagle said. “If someone wants to move from coach to first class, the county won’t pay for that, because it’s not fiscally responsible.”
Although it will cost a MUD board more money to do a road project, Cagle said he believes most boards would not have to raise taxes since they already have the authority to build other improvements such as parks.
“If they can do a beautification project, most pay for themselves over a short period of time because you improve the property value in the neighborhood,” Cagle said.
A MUD in Mandolin Village, a Cy-Fair subdivision within Cagle’s Precinct 4, turned a neighborhood ditch into Mandolin Garden Park several years ago, which made that area the place to be, he said.
“The value of the homes around that park went up exponentially, and therefore, that improvement they did paid for itself,” Cagle said. “A lot of the MUDs are doing that same analysis—if we take a nice, safe road and turn it into a boulevard, that improves the value of homes surrounding that boulevard. I think they’ll be able to pay for improvements through improved value.”
If all MUDs are given the authority to do street improvements, it would need to be approved by the legislature, or a type of contract could be worked out between Harris County and the MUDs.
“Something has to be worked out between the MUDs and the county,” Emmett said. “Either the MUDs need to be able to repair these streets, or the county needs to access some of the revenue from the MUDs.”
Although Emmett believes there is a good chance the issue will be considered in the 2013 legislative session, he said typically new ideas do not get enacted into law on the first attempt.