Harris County Judge Ed Emmett outlines challenges facing local government

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett outlines current, future challenges facing local government Harris County Judge Ed Emmett spoke at a civic meeting Jan. 18.[/caption]

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett spoke at the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce’s monthly government affairs meeting Jan. 18, sharing an overview of the challenges faced by county government in 2017 and beyond.

With the population of the county’s unincorporated area approaching that of the city of Houston, Emmett said growth will present increasing challenges for the county as it struggles to provide for larger numbers of residents with limited funding options. The county’s main source of revenue is  property taxes.

Emmett said the county’s expenses in criminal justice and the rise in indigent health care costs along with population growth are outside its control. As a result, the amount the county can spend on other areas—such as transportation and flood control—is limited.

“Neither of those items do we need to be cutting back on at this time,” Emmett said. “We’re a big county, and we need to be able to address the concerns that we have.”

The county’s transportation budget is largely directed toward major projects, leaving issues on smaller roads unresolved, he said.

“Transportation is something we will always be playing catch-up with,” Emmett said. “People can talk about [Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County] and rail projects, but as long as we’re growing as fast as we are, we’re going to have to keep building roads.”

Emmett also updated attendees on the status of the county’s $105 million Astrodome renovation project. An architect was chosen for Astrodome restructuring in December, and the firm—Houston-based Kirksey Architecture—has one year to develop a final construction plan, he said.

Renovations will include raising the floor 30 feet to ground level, and developing two levels of underground parking with 1,400 parking spaces. The facility will provide 9 acres of open space for events, such as boat and auto shows.

“By and large the public wants to keep the dome; they just don’t want the taxpayers to pay much money to do it,” Emmett said.

The project will be funded through general county revenue, the county hotel occupancy tax and parking enterprise fund, and it will recoup that revenue once the facility is operational, he said.

“All the festivals and gatherings we have in our community will just beat the door down to be able to be in there,” he said.

By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.