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County Affairs Committee Discusses Natural Disaster Recovery

By Rick Thompson

The House Committee on County Affairs held a hearing on June 6 where they discussed how natural disasters affect county finances and what ordinance-making and enforcement authority counties need to appropriately and effectively respond to future events. Chairman Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), after calling the meeting to order, recognized the challenges these disaster communities face in their efforts for recovering.

The committee considered testimony regarding the following interim charges:

Interim Charge 1
Examine how emergency response activities are organized, funded and coordinated. Review the impact of natural disasters on county finances. Identify any deficiencies in authority for the most populous counties related to infrastructure planning, emergency response and recovery. Explore ways to improve efficiencies and manage costs while protecting public safety. Additionally, study the relationship between the state, counties, non-governmental organizations and churches in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath and determine if preparedness plans are adequate.

Interim Charge 2
Evaluate whether counties have the necessary ordinance-making and enforcement authority to deal with flood risk in unincorporated rural and suburban areas of Texas. Additionally, examine whether counties have adequate resources and authority to ensure that new development in unincorporated areas is not susceptible to flooding.

The committee heard testimony from county officials, including Aransas County Judge Burt Mills and Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid.

In his testimony, Judge Mills emphasized that a top down approach towards recovery cannot work. He said a bottom up model allows the people who live in the community to make decisions for their community instead of visiting government officials who do not know the community or its needs as well and essentially slow down the process.

Judge Madrid discussed the limited development authority counties need to help protect citizens and first responders who are put at risk when they respond during a disaster to housing developments, including Colonias, built in flood zones.

The committee is expected to issue a report with recommendations on all of its interim charges prior to the beginning of the next legislative session in January 2019.​​​​​​