Harris County commissioners were authorized May 7 to access the public improvement contingency, or PIC, fund as needed to fund emergency requests directly related to the May 2 disaster declaration.

Current situation

According to Harris County documents, the PIC fund was originally established in 2017 to provide funding for recovery efforts due to hurricanes, tropical storms or major flooding events not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or insurance. The fund was eventually expanded to be used for all countywide emergencies and other unexpected events.

In fiscal year 2023-24, Harris County increased the available balance in the PIC fund by $40 million, for a total of $196 million.

Daniel Ramos, executive director of the Harris County Office of Management and Budget, said the PIC fund is essentially the county’s “rainy day fund.”

“It’s the money we utilize during our emergencies," he said. “The policy spells out that we wouldn’t be able to access it unless we hit the $5 million cap.”

PIC funds will be used to help departments that assisted in the flood fill invoices and expense gaps.

“When you have 100 employees working around the clock for four to five days, their normal duties are put [away] while they work on that,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said during the May 7 commissioners court meeting. “This PIC fund will be very helpful in making us whole so at least we can get back to some norm, which is much appreciated.”

Commissioners also authorized Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo to begin executing contracts, not to exceed $5 million, for disaster response and recovery, including debris removal and management.

Put in perspective

The northeast area of Harris County, including the community of Kingwood, was heavily affected by recent flooding that took place May 2-5.

Many schools in the area closed and residents were forced to evacuate their homes along the east and west forks of the San Jacinto River.

During the May 7 Commissioners Court meeting, Hidalgo said there were 233 rescues that took place during the incident with 186 pets also saved.

“There has been a lot of destruction and very tragic stories, but there has not been a documented death or serious injury,” she said. “I think we all need to be grateful for that, and that’s on the first responders and the community. Now we move on to the recovery phase.”

Offering input

Ramsey, whose precinct includes Kingwood, called out neighboring Montgomery County officials for not preparing for the flood better.

“It’s an event like this that tells us there is much work to do,” he said. “It’s an event like this that tells us that my neighbor to the north—Montgomery County—needs to do more on flood mitigation.”

Ramsey suggested Montgomery County officials consider adopting the mitigation requirements in Atlas 14, which are similar to those of Harris County.

Atlas 14, according to the Greater Houston Builders Association, was a comprehensive rainfall rate study in 2019 that led the Harris County Flood Control District to make significant changes to its regulated storm water detention rates.

Major changes included:

  • Requiring new developments to provide a minimum of 0.65 acre-feet per acre of storm water detention, a 20% increase from previous standards
  • Requiring zero net fill mitigation from the 100-year floodplain to the 500-year floodplain

Ramsey also said the San Jacinto River Authority should have released water earlier to buy the residents who live along flood-prone areas in Precinct 3 more time to prepare.

“They could have released it five to six days ago,” he said. “They knew the flood was coming. Every drop of water that flows from Montgomery County comes into Harris County through Precinct 3. I’m done with it. I’m tired of excuses. There is no reason why you don’t mitigate the flow, and the same goes with Liberty County.”

Next steps

Ramsey said his employees will begin setting up debris locations around the area as soon as it is safe to do so. Residents are encouraged to call 311 for debris removal questions and 211 for food bank information and immediate support.