Cypress MUD passes BOND

With several new communities being planned in western Cypress, one of the largest municipal utility districts in Harris County is preparing to get larger.

Voters approved a $210 million bond referendum for Harris County MUD No. 165 during Nov. 5 elections, which MUD officials said will be used to fund a variety of water, sewage and drainage projects within the district’s boundaries and potentially within new boundaries that could be added through annexation. The referendum passed with 55% of the vote, a total of 618 votes, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office.

MUD 165 covers a roughly 3,400-acre stretch of land in Cypress north of FM 529 around Fry Road, where it caters to communities such as Canyon Lakes West and Miramesa. MUDs are used throughout Harris County as a way to help developers bring utility infrastructure to undeveloped areas prior to home construction.

The district also successfully passed a $191 million bond referendum in May after annexing land where the proposed Bridge Creek community is being planned. Officials said they petitioned the city of Houston to annex another 856 acres west of Fry Road where an unnamed community is being planned by Land Tejas.

“The developer came to us and asked us if we had to capacity to help them, which we obviously do,” MUD Board Vice President David Molina said. “We have a very robust infrastructure.”

Although the land annexations were set into motion around the same time as the bond elections, MUD Board President Alan Benston said the bond money is not necessarily tied to projects in those areas. The district still has $90 million in bonding capacity leftover from a 2007 bond, and officials said they have no immediate plans to sell capacity from either of the 2019 elections.

“Essentially we’re talking about what we’re going to do with these bonds over the next 30 years,” Bentson said. “We can’t afford to plan even just two years out. You can’t run out of water. You can’t run out of sewage capacity or people freak out. We probably won’t get to this new bond authority for some time; we have just to have it ready.”

MUD 165 currently owns and operates four water plants and two sewer plants, and plans are in the works to build another water and sewer plant within the recently annexed area.

In addition to water and sewer work, the MUD also performs drainage work along Langham Creek in coordination with the Harris County Flood Control District. Work in 2019 has included an ongoing dirt removal project that took on additional importance after Hurricane Harvey filled the creek with silt in 2017, Molina said.

Bentson said growth of property values within the district’s boundaries have allowed it to lower its property tax rate in each of the past five years.

In October, the board adopted a tax rate of $0.95 per $100 of valuation, down from a rate of $1.05 per $100 of valuation in 2018. Based on the average home value within the district—roughly $194,000—homeowners will pay the district an average of $1,848 in annual property taxes, down from $1,921 in 2018.

“We plan on [lowering tax rates] in the future, but we can’t make commitments because you actually have to take votes at certain times of the year to make that happen,” Bentson said. “But generally we’ve always tried to keep our services at the same place and lower our tax rates.”

Bentson said work on utility infrastructure is expected to get started as soon as the annexation plans are approved by the city of Houston. Officials said the timeline of that approval is unclear and could potentially take a long as one year.

MUD 165 currently services around 8,000 homes. Benston estimated that another 4,000 homes could be added with the new communities, but that number will become more clear as site plans at the new communities are finalized, he said. - By Shawn Arrajj 

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