TIRZ, Superneighborhoods, Management Districts, Oh My!

Local city politics can be confusing with all the different entities in charge. Add to that the jurisdiction of counties and state legislative bodies, and it can seem difficult to unravel.

Use this guide to digest the bodies that shape our city and to empower you to make changes that benefit your community.

City of Houston

The most traditional way to approach local politics is by discussing the leadership of the City of Houston, embodied by the Mayor of Houston. This elected position holds a tenure of 4 years, with a maximum of 2 terms.

City Council. City Council serves as a crucial component. Given the magnitude of issues faced by the city, the Mayor alone cannot address them all. City Council adds an additional layer of representation to ensure all constituents are heard. The City Council comprises 16 Councilmembers, who represent 11 City Council Districts, complemented by 5 at-large positions.

Superneighborhoods. Superneighborhoods serve as an essential conduit. Even with distinct City Council districts, individual council members would face challenges reaching all constituents. Superneighborhoods offer an added level of representation. To grasp the role of Superneighborhoods, it is essential to introduce the concept of civic associations or civic clubs. These associations, often known as neighborhoods, collectively form Superneighborhoods.

City Departments. City Departments play a vital role. The City of Houston is supported by 23 Departments, responsible for the administration of local city politics. Each department is headed by an individual who reports directly to the Mayor. Illustrative examples of city departments encompass Public Works, Planning, Parks & Recreation, among others.

Harris County

Commissioners Court. County commissioners wield a surprisingly high level of autonomy, even surpassing that of the Mayor, as each commissioner operates independently without an equivalent entity like the City Council. This unique setup grants commissioners direct control over their individual budgets ($250M/year). These commissioners undergo election every 4 years and do not face term limits. In Harris County, there are four distinct county precincts. Notably, commissioners are renowned for their contributions to public safety enhancements and reinvestment within their communities, achieved through vital capital construction undertakings, which include the development of roads, bridges, parks, and other essential projects.

County Judge. At the helm of Harris County stands the County Judge, a pivotal role that undergoes election every 4 years and is subject to a 2 term limit. The County Judge possesses the authority to propose measures before the court, yet the final passage of county-related propositions hinges on achieving a majority consensus. In the court, a 3/5 vote proves adequate for the approval of these measures.

Flood Control District. The Harris County Flood Control District is responsible for a very important part for Houston. Drainage in Houston has always played a strong role because of our geography and climate.

Special Districts: TIRZ

Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ) in Houston serve as a strategic financial tool, aiming to tackle the challenge posed by the city’s revenue cap that restricts property tax-generated revenue. Implemented in 2004, this cap can hinder essential project funding. TIRZ provides a solution by redirecting a portion of increased property tax revenue from rising property values within specific districts. These funds are then reinvested within the same district to boost infrastructure and public enhancements. Importantly, funds channeled into TIRZ projects remain exempt from the city’s revenue cap. This approach enables Houston to navigate financial constraints, driving area-specific development while adhering to budgetary limits.

The success of TIRZ isn’t solely tied to affluent residents but is closely linked to thriving businesses that draw new enterprises through incremental property tax revenue. Although I agree that revenue distribution within the city is vital, addressing the core issue requires a consideration of the revenue cap itself. Houston’s vast expanse of over 660 square miles presents inherent limitations. TIRZ emerges as a localized approach to cater to distinct community needs more effectively.

TIRZ effectiveness hinges on its governing members and their dedicated staff. Similar to any business endeavor, TIRZ operates within market dynamics, making borrowing challenging during high-interest rate periods. To flourish, TIRZ must possess business acumen and collaborate with entities capable of infusing more capital into their zones, often involving developers. This collaborative strategy enhances TIRZ’s ability to drive growth and meet the specific demands of diverse communities.

As of 20202, Dallas’s property tax rate was 77 cents per $100, while Houston’s is approximately 57 cents per $100 (35% lower)

Special Districts: Managment District

Management Districts are the entity that pays for the recognizable elements such as the chrome posts and circular street signs of Uptown, or the shiny neighborhood marker signs in Montrose.

Most Management Districts are authorized to develop a wide variety of improvements, including:
-landscape and beautification
-banners, signs, and seasonal holiday decorations,
-sidewalks, lighting, and pedestrian improvements,
-parks public plazas and recreation areas

Management Districts are also authorized to provide supplemental services, including:
-advertising, economic development, business recruitment, and promoting the area in the district
-public safety and security
-litter pick-up, street sweeping, and maintenance of the public right-of-way
-adiding mobility and relieving traffic congestion
-recreation, and cultural enhancement

Each management district’s services and improvements are tailored to meet the goals and needs of the specific district. However, Management Districts typically focus their resources on:
-Enhancing security and public safety,
-Beautifying the local environment with streetscape, parks, greenbelts and landscaping
-Recruiting and retaining businesses for the community,
-Enhancing mobility and reducing traffic congestion

Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC)

Let’s dial this back a bit. On the federal level, in order to represent the various cities and settlements around the country, the term Metropolitan Planning Organization came about. Initially, their role was smaller but as transportation budgets continued to grow, MPO’s now hold much more power and basically get to decide which infrastructure projects get funded.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) is made up of 13 Counties and 107 Cities.

State of Texas

Texas Department of Transportation

97% of available funding is restricted to “surface transportation, the remaining 3% can be used for transit

Section 49-g(c), Article III of the Texas Constitution

Proposition 1. Misleading by omission: On November 4, 2014 voters approved the following: by not including public transportation, bicycle paths or public sidewalks. Misleading by omission

Ballot language: The constitutional amendment providing for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the state highway fund to assist in the completion of transportation construction, maintenance and rehabilitation projects, not to include toll roads.

Texas State Legislature

State Senators and State Representatives – Coming Soon

U.S. Congress

Senators and U.S. Representatives – Coming Soon

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