The House Committee on County Affairs held a hearing on May 10 that included a discussion of how natural disasters affect county finances and the 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 opportunity this committee has to take time to look at the issues carefully and craft legislation with the intent to mitigate future harm.
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.
Counties were represented by El Paso County Commissioner Vincent Perez, County Judges and Commissioners Association General Counsel Jim Allison and several other county employees involved with natural disaster recovery issues. The discussion included Hurricane Harvey, El Paso flooding, the Hays County Flood and wind storm damage in coastal counties.
In his testimony, Jim Allison presented a summary of the issues with several recommendations. Those recommendations include the need for county authority to adopt and enforce a comprehensive flood drainage plan and county authority to require a capital improvement maintenance fund or homeowners association as part of the plat approval process. Allison also recommended that the state maintain a fund to provide immediate support to local entities for debris removal and other needs. Additionally, he addressed housing issues, as well as the need for a single state agency with the responsibility of training local officials and providing immediate response specialists to assist local officials in coordinating with state and federal officials after a disaster.
Testimony and handouts from the hearing are available on the Texas Legislature Online website. 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.