Residents who have voluntarily applied for Fort Bend County’s elevation and buyout hazard mitigation grant program from 2016 for the Tax Day flood may start seeing progress for their properties soon.
“It was a much slower process than anticipated over the two years to the constituents because Harvey hit in the middle of it,” said Mark Flathouse, Fort Bend County’s interim emergency management coordinator. “It’s now time to pick it back up and keep making sure that we do everything accordingly for that.”
According to Flathouse, a total of 42 homeowners have requested a buyout for their home, while another 12 homeowners want their homes elevated.
The grant funds include a 75 percent to 25 percent state-county match, meaning the state pays 75 percent of the cost while the county is responsible for the remaining 25 percent. The county would pay $2.6 million for buyouts and $525,000 for elevations, Flathouse said.
However, during a Fort Bend County Commissioners Court meeting Jan. 29, County Attorney Roy Cordes said county funds cannot be used for elevations. These funds would have to come from private sources.
“About the grant that was awarded, we were asked by the judge’s office on the use of county funds for the matching 25 percent, and we informed them that county funds could not be used in an elevation project for 25 percent and that certificate of obligation funds were probably not appropriate [either]. We’d be glad to work with the auditor and see if we’re missing something,” Cordes said.
County Auditor Ed Sturdivant said during the meeting one option for county-based funding would be accounting for the funds in the 2020 budget or use issuance of certificates of obligation, in which the county can set the terms of the bonds for repayment.
“The important thing is that the money is not in place right now, and all county funds must be spent in strict compliance with the budget,” Sturdivant said. “To comply with that part of the local government code, we would have to get an executed reimbursement resolution that basically says the court is agreeing to fund an amount for a purpose with the intent of reimbursing itself from a future borrowing.”
The county can fund buyouts because the land would then be owned by the county for uses deemed appropriate. However, since the elevations would be done on private property, additional grants or private funding would need to be in place before any work is done, Sturdivant said.
“We would have to then give this information to the homeowners and give them the opportunity to opt in or opt out with an understanding that they would have to advance fund any expense incurred on their behalf by the county,” he said. “Not only can’t we spend county funds, [but] we [also] can’t lend the credit of the county, so we would have to collect funds in advance before we incur expense on their behalf just for the elevations.”
Another hurdle the county faces is these projects are supposed to be completed by March 2020, Cordes said.
One alternative option the county has for funding is taking advantage of the Community Development Block Grant in place for disaster relief from the 2016 Tax Day flood.
“Much like Hurricane Harvey, for 2016, Fort Bend County has been granted Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding–CDBGDR,” Fort Bend County Recovery Manager Caroline Egan said. “There is money that has been given to us … to set aside funding to help with the 25 percent match especially in relation to elevations but also for buyouts.”
However, the timelines for the hazard mitigation grant and the CDBGDR grant vary, making it challenging to qualify residents and hire contractors within the time left to complete these elevations and buyouts, Egan said.
“If a resident who is on the elevation grant does qualify for CDBGDR funding for an elevation or a buyout, they could potentially then 100 percent be funded under that,” she said. “Working with our contractors and the community development department, we would have to qualify those residents for CDBGDR, and unfortunately community development is not in a place to do that as of yet because the 2016 funding for CDBGDR has not come down yet, and they cannot incur costs ahead of the grant.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Vincent Morales said he would like the county to continue looking into more options for funding elevations for homeowners who expressed interest.
The Commissioners Court ultimately approved using county funds to cover the 25 percent match for the buyouts to an extent of $2.6 million.
The court will meet again at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 401 Jackson St., Richmond.