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Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership
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Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership
News Release
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Harris and Galveston county judges report on State of the Counties to BAHEP membership

As surely as hurricane season comes and goes every year, the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership hosts its annual State of the Counties general membership meeting. Held Oct. 3 at Bay Oaks Country Club, the event featured Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Galveston County Judge Mark Henry who both had much to report about their respective counties following the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey at the end of August.

Harris County in recovery mode

Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman introduced Judge Emmett who immediately declared, “What is the state of Harris County? It’s recovery and return to normalcy. That’s what we’re about, and we’re going to be about that for some time to come.

Emmett noted that Harris County is different than any other county. There are almost two million people living in unincorporated areas, with no municipal government and no ordinance making power. He said, “When an event like this happens, the county can only do what the state allows it to do, because it is an arm of the state. If we’re not going to make any fundamental annexation changes for the City of Houston, if we’re not going to allow other cities to grow or incorporate, then the county has to have more tools to work with.

“When we talk about tools, you start with finances. Harris County exists on property tax alone. We’re going to have a rebellion on our hands if people who continually get flooded don’t get flood control projects completed, we don’t get a third reservoir built, and we don’t take a more holistic view of how we’re going to prevent this in the future. It is going to cost some money.”

Emmett continued, “Longer term the county is going to require some real tweaks if not fundamental changes to government.”

Revenue caps would hurt Harris County

The judge reported, “I’ve had numerous conversations with the governor over revenue caps. There were several proposals during the special session, but the one that caused me the most angst was one that said county spending can only increase by population growth plus inflation. If the state grows two percent, we probably grow 10 percent. How do you measure inflation when it comes to what the county spends? We buy criminal justice. We buy indigent health care. We do roads and bridges and flood control. Those are not in any way reflected by the consumer price index. The worst thing we could have right now is that put on Harris County.”

The judge concluded saying, “Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Astrodome. Emmett said that the storm helped the dome. He explained that all through the NRG complex, military and law enforcement assets were stationed in the parking lots working and sleeping in tents. If the dome had been completed, those people in the 1,400 parking spaces would have been in the dome with nine acres of open space to stage other assets. He hopes to complete the project and get FEMA to help pay for it, because the Astrodome could be a perfect staging asset.

“Fuzzy” moment must be captured

Closing he said, “My fear is that the good, warm, fuzzy feelings that everybody has right now will go away in six months. We need to capture this moment, and we need to make sure that we do everything possible to get everybody back to normal as soon as possible. Thank you very much.”

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry swam to OEM

Greg Smith, Ph.D., superintendent of Schools for Clear Creek Independent School District and chairman of BAHEP’s board of directors, introduced Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.

Judge Henry noted that the county passed the seventh consecutive tax rate decrease – a 12 percent reduction since 2011. Galveston County achieved a AAA bond rating in 2017, which will help in the upcoming bond election, he stated.

Henry reported that the real devastation in Galveston County occurred in Dickinson, League City, and Friendswood.

He related, “I went home on Saturday night. I live about a mile from the Office of Emergency Management. About 1 a.m., I received a call saying that I needed to get back to the OEM.” The office was overwhelmed with calls from people who needed to be rescued.

The judge returned as soon as he could see well enough to swim and avoid hazards. He eventually made it back at 6:15 am. The phones rang non-stop for hours. Henry directed the social media person to put out a Facebook post asking people who had a flat-bottomed boat, fuel and life vests to help rescue people off rooftops. The post was shared 1 million times in the next 24 hours. Henry said, “As a result, we had the largest civilian volunteer rescue operation I have ever heard of in the history of the United States. They rescued thousands.”

He continued, “A Community Development Block Grant won’t start until 2018. That project will last 8-10 years. Now we’re trying to get some clarity around the FEMA short-term programs. Sen. Taylor’s office and Rep. Bonnen’s office have been very engaged in getting things pushed when they needed to get pushed.

Facilities important part of bond issue

“It’s estimated that in Galveston County 20,000 to 25,000 homes had from one inch to six feet of water in them. We have a bond issue already on the ballot. There are three things on the ballot – facilities, drainage, and transportation. I’m not too worried about drainage and transportation, but facilities are a bit of a concern.” Henry said that you have to make sure that you have good facilities as the county grows.

He closed commenting about coastal spine protection. Henry said, “We’ve been talking about this since I’ve been in office. We’re asking the federal government to spend $12-15 billion, which, I know, is a lot of money, in order to not pay $500 billion in the future. This is an opportunity for us to push the concept of a coastal spine with our congressional delegation. I thank you for your time. We will recover and be bigger, better and stronger.”

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