Galveston County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Clark talks state of budget, economy amid coronavirus pandemic

Like in other counties across the state and nation, Galveston County's unemployment rate is up, and many businesses are closed, but some positives have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Like in other counties across the state and nation, Galveston County's unemployment rate is up, and many businesses are closed, but some positives have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Like in other counties across the state and nation, Galveston County's unemployment rate is up, and many businesses are closed, but some positives have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Like in other counties across the state and nation, Galveston County's unemployment rate is up, and many businesses are closed, but some positives have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Galveston County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Clark said.

Speaking during a Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership webinar June 7, Clark said the county has remained open during the outbreak despite surrounding counties closing. This has led to increased business for the county, Clark said.

For instance, Harris County temporarily suspended issuing marriage licenses at the height of the coronavirus. Galveston County issued such licenses, along with divorce filings, to its own residents and those from other counties, leading to "robust business" for Galveston County, Clark said.

"The county never closed and kept operations open but took extra precautions,” he said.

Some of those precautions include partitions between county employees and customers, social distancing markers on the floor and weekly chemical foggings of county buildings to clean them.


Additionally, the county has tested over 34,000 residents—about 10% of its total population. Clark said Galveston County has been an example of how to ramp up testing, becoming a leader in the state.

“We’ve been very aggressive trying to get that testing going," he said.

Of the nearly 1,000 residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus in Galveston County, 454 are active cases, and 502 have recovered.

Of the county's 38 deaths, 32 are affiliated with long-term care facilities in the county, Clark said. About 221 cases in the county came from outbreaks at five nursing homes across the county.

Galveston County's COVID-19 mortality rate is about twice as high as Harris County's, in part due to the outbreaks at Galveston County nursing homes, according to previous reports.

COVID-19 is taking its toll on Galveston County residents economically, as well.

Businesses have had to close, and it is uncertain when they will reopen, if at all. Some are unable to afford to open at only 50% capacity, which is the maximum capacity allowed under Gov. Greg Abbott's reopening guidelines until Phase 3 begins June 12 and allows businesses to reopen at up to 75% capacity.

Movie theaters are an industry hit hard by the pandemic. It is uncertain when they will be able to reopen, or if they will go out of business, Clark said. Kemah and Galveston were also hurt by the closing of tourism areas, such as the Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston's many entertainment venues.

"Those are some challenging items that we’re going to have to address," he said.

Amidst the economic turmoil, some Galveston County residents are being hit hard with property value increases. Some homes have increased 125%, 250% or even 400% in value, which leads to inflated property taxes many residents will not be able to afford, Clark said.

"Unfortunately, the property value hit to people across the county is staggering of how much values have gone up," he said.

For the past nine years, Galveston County has passed budgets below the effective tax rate, saving taxpayers money. Clark said the county will have to consider making the budget even leaner for fiscal year 2020-21 to help ease the burden on taxpayers.

“That’s not Galveston County money; that’s taxpayer money," Clark said. "That’s an issue I take very serious.”
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

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