Texas Supreme Court unanimously rules drainage fee proposition misleading

Case sent back to lower court

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The Supreme Court of Texas has sided with a group of Houstonians who argue a 2010 proposition that levies a fee on property owners was misrepresented by Mayor Annise Parker.

At issue is whether the language that appeared on the ballot made it clear that a fee would be charged to property owners.

"Good day for property owners of Houston. That decision should save them over a billion dollars in taxes," attorney Joseph Slavacek said of the unanimous opinion.

The 8-0 decision does not mean an immediate repeal of the city's drainage fee, which is calculated by assessing a property owner's impermeable surfaces.

So far, the fee has generated roughly $400 million, according to the city.

The money has been contributed to more than 40 projects so far.

Parker once called the lawsuit against the city charter amendment a frivolous lawsuit. Friday, she was still resolute about the legality of the fee.

"This is but one step in the ongoing legal process. It does not change the city's ability to continue with the program that has resulted in millions of dollars of drainage and street improvements throughout Houston since its implementation. Of course, we, respectfully, disagree with the court's decision and are reviewing our options, including filing a motion for rehearing. If we do not file for rehearing, the case will simply be remanded to the trial court, where the city will continue its vigorous defense," Parker said via a release.

"I'm sold on the vote of the people, but I was concerned in the beginning. I opposed 'Prop 1' (because) I thought the ballot language was deceptive." Michael Kubosh, city councilman at-large, said.

A lower court will now take up the issue, although a schedule has not yet been set. A judge could elect to avoid retrial by issuing a summary judgment based on the Supreme Court's finding.

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