Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District update: Three takeaways from the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court meeting Dec. 5

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Fort Bend County Commissioners approved several agenda items at the regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 5, including approving a $50,000 advance to support the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District.

1) Petco Hurricane Harvey grant
Commissioners accepted a $75,000 grant from Petco for Hurricane Harvey follow up investments for fiscal year 2017. The grant will be used for lifesaving projects and programs.

2) Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District Update
Commissioners approved an amendment on a reimbursement agreement between Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Port Freeport to advance $50,000 to the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District for costs from the District’s 2018 budget. All three entities matched the $50,000 advance.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Myers provided the court with an update during the meeting and said that Brazoria County has plans to improve expanding the port itself to accommodate larger ships.

“They’ve also anticipated that they will start construction in 2020,” Myers said.

Myers said the District made an application to TxDOT for a $600,000 preliminary engineering study and that Brazoria County Commissioners expect to see that item and approve it on a court agenda early next year. The study would conduct preliminary engineering work to identify multiple alternative routes for the rail line itself and potential environmental issues.

“They are eventually going to have do a much more in depth, much more expensive $8-15 million environmental engineering study,” Myers said. “This is just kind of the next phase in that process.”

Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert said the $50,000 advance is the third installment the county has made toward the District and that he plans on meeting with Freeport authorities and the Brazoria County Judge to discuss the county’s involvement with the District.

“I am not here to burn taxpayer’s money on projects that are going nowhere, so we are going to [need to]see positive actions by the [Brazoria Commissioners Court],” Hebert said.

Myers said once a private entity takes over the District, all the funds the county has advanced to the District over the last three years should be reimbursed.

“This is a long-term process–10-15 years,” Myers said. “It’s not something that is going to happen overnight.”

3) Mental Health Grant Program 
Commissioners approved actions to petition the Texas Health and Humans Services Commissions with the Texana Center, the county’s mental health authority, in a community effort for funds through the Mental Health Grant Program for Justice with Involved Individuals. The county would match the grant amount for two years.

“It’s basically to reduce recidivism–people that have had at least one incarceration and often they are still at risk of going back unless we have the right services–so we are really excited about it,” said Connie Almeida, director of Fort Bend County Behavioral Health and Services.

The program comes in response to Senate Bill 292, which aims to reduce recidivism and help address arrests and incarcerations of people with mental illness.

“Fort Bend County is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States with a current population exceeding 750,000,” Judge Hebert wrote in a letter of support to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. “As our population grows, unfortunately, so does the jail population and the need for services related to the care of inmates and reeducation of recidivism.”

The county will be able to provide programs that reduce the rate of recidivism through jail diversion programs already in existence and development of other services that include housing, employment, substance abuse recovery services and continuity of care, according to the letter.

“The requested funding will address service gaps in our systems, allow us to improve outcomes and enhance cross system collaboration,” Hebert said.

Commissioners will meet at 1 p.m. Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. at the historic courthouse in downtown Richmond.

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Originally from Houston, Rebecca joined Community Impact in June 2017 to report on the Richmond area. She covers the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court, city government, education, business and transportation.

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