5 takeaways from State of Harris County speech by Judge Ed Emmett

By Sophia Beausoleil - Reporter, Aaron Barker - Senior Web Editor

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett delivers his annual State of the County Address at the NRG Center in Houston on Nov. 28, 2017.

HOUSTON - Harris County Judge Ed Emmett delivered his 2017 State of the County Address on Tuesday at the NRG Center.

It was Emmett's 10th State of the County Address since he became county judge in 2007.

Here's five things to know about Tuesday's speech.

1. Flood control is a top priority

Emmett suggested turning vulnerable areas like bayous, creeks, area rivers and flood mitigation into nature preserves or recreational and tourist areas.Emmett said the county should convert areas prone to flooding, like area rivers, bayous, creeks and flood mitigation into nature preserves or recreational and tourist areas.

He suggested the state should  tap into its $10 billion “Rainy Day Fund” to help design and construct a third reservoir and create a permanent  nature preserve on the Katy Prairie. 

WATCH: Emmett's full speech %INLINE%

“The federal and state governments will not send enough financial help to do everything that is needed in our area.  Harris County taxpayers will be asked to fund a specific list of flood control projects through a bond issue.  We cannot ‘kick the can down the road,’ said Emmett. 

Emmett said it wouldn’t be until 2018 that a bond package would go before voters, but he said he wants it to be very clear what they’re asking for before it heads to the taxpayers.

“I know we’re looking over a billion dollars, probably two, maybe more, but people want us to do something and for them to vote for it they’re going to need to know exactly what they’re voting for,” said Emmett.

One of the items would be to convert Lake Houston and Lake Conroe into a flood control facility in addition to water supply. 

The county judge said he’s concerned that people around the country and world only perceive Houston and Harris County as a flood-prone swamp.

2. There will be a bond in the future

Emmett didn’t specifically say when, but suggested that in 2018, Harris County taxpayers will be asked to fund a specific list of flood control projects through a bond. He said he believes it could be more than $1 billion worth in projects.

During his speech, he said there are many projects FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers need to finish. He said the state could accomplish projects like building a third reservoir and creating a permanent nature preserve on the Katy Prairie, using some of the $10 billion from the “Rainy Day Fund.”

3. Mental Health

Emmett also commented on the Harris County Jail saying while it’s the largest mental health facility in Texas that needs more resources.

“The State of Texas should work with the medical community to greatly expand mental health facilities and services,” said Emmett.

He also touched on the increased costs of health care and how it’s impacting the Harris Health, which used to be called Harris County Hospital District. 

He said more than 25 percent of the Harris County tax bill goes to Harris Health and that with more patients and the cost of care increasing, the price continues to go up. 

“State leaders who are eager to seek federal dollars for disaster relief should also be willing to accept federal funding for indigent health care, that would be a real property tax relief,” said Emmett during his speech.

4. Transportation

The county judge also serves as a chairman of the Texas Freight Advisory Committee and talked about the need for a I-69 bypass around the east side of Harris County and how freight corridors in the area need improvement.

Emmett said there needs to be more attention on railroads and new technology to continue morning freight to and from Port Houston and other areas.

VIDEO: Judge Emmett's post-speech press conference

5. Taxes

The county judge was not shy about expressing his concern and faulting lawmakers about the county’s tax system.

Emmett said 4.7 million people live in Harris County making in the third most populous county in the nation and about two million live in unincorporated areas of the county. 

He said most services are provided by property taxes.  He didn’t hid his frustrations to what happened during this past legislative session.

“Stat leaders and some in the Legislature are proposing to tinker with the property tax at the expense of efficient, forward looking local government.  Harris County has low taxes and exemplary financial ratings, but some state officials want more restrictions on our ability to meet the needs of our residents,” said Emmett.

He used his own tax bill as an example , stating he pays $8,038 to Houston Independent School District, $1,305 to Harris County Hospital District and $216 to the Harris County Flood Control District.

Emmett’s said his point was to show how state leaders to show that the tax system is , “out of whack.”

“Our tax system is broken.  County government relies almost completely on property tax revenue, but the property tax is wholly inadequate as a means of financing the unique urban government that we have,” said Emmett.  “Even  though Harris County has the most generous residential exemptions in the state and a low overall tax rate, certain state leaders and legislators continually criticize us.  It is pure ugly politics.  And, by the way, the portion of county taxes paid by business community  is growing.  We are reaching the point where tax policies are a drag on economic development.”

International Footprint

Emmett said he’s created an international advisory committee and hired a consultant to work with the Greater Houston Partnership to have more of an international footprint. 

“Over the years, county government has not engaged much in international economic development.  For the most part, I think that stemmed from a reluctance to spend property tax revenue on overseas travel, probably a wise decision.  However, I believe Harris County needs to find another way to be part of the global process,” Emmett said. 

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