Harris County Commissioners Court preview: Bond discussion, flood control updates

Harris County Commissioners Court preview: Bond discussion, flood control updates

Harris County commissioners will meet July 19 for their sole session this month to discuss a potential bond issue in November, receive updates from the flood control district and potentially approve funds for a maternal care program.

The agenda for Commissioners Court is released at 9 a.m. on the Friday before each meeting. The meetings are held at 10 a.m. and are available to livestream here.

Bond discussion, continued

Both County Administrator David Berry and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey have requested follow-up discussion on a potential $1 billion bond issue for the November election.

Berry’s office created a preliminary bond breakdown, which was presented to commissioners June 28; the plan proposes allocating $700 million for roads and transit, $200 million for parks and $100 million for public safety.

At the last court meeting, Ramsey said he agreed with the idea of a bond but was concerned the time frame to adopt the bond—which would leave 88 days before the November election—would not provide enough time to communicate with voters.

Flood control district updates

The Harris County Flood Control District is asking commissioners for approval to submit an application for a $950,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to expand its urban flood risk pilot study. The district previously received $950,000 for the pilot from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2021.

According to Todd Ward, risk mitigation department manager for the HCFCD, the results from the pilot study will inform next steps for a follow-up study to evaluate flood risks in urban areas and determine effective ways of communicating those risks.

The HCFCD is also updating the court on the progress of the Harris County Modeling, Assessment and Awareness Project, or MAAPnext, which is a partnership with FEMA to update the flood plain maps in the county’s watersheds.

MAAPnext began in 2019. In January, the district delivered models and maps to FEMA, which will use the information to release preliminary flood insurance rate maps to the public in late summer or early fall.

This update is provided as a transmittal, which is a document filed electronically to the court and therefore will not necessarily be discussed at the meeting.

Maternal health program

Harris County Public Health is requesting $7.75 million for its Maternal and Child Health program, a new home visiting program for pregnant mothers in underserved communities.

The program will focus on Black mothers and their infants by providing a point of contact to visit mothers in their homes, arming them with information and increasing their access to care.

In its submission to the court for the July 19 meeting, HCPH reported the Black maternal mortality rates in 2020 were 81.47 per 100,000 live births in Texas and 106.01 in Harris County. From 2016-20, the Black maternal mortality rate was 94.8, compared to 37.75 for Asian and Pacific Islander mothers, 26 for Hispanic mothers and 23.5 for white mothers.

If approved, the program would pilot in September and target Black pregnant women and mothers with infants under 12 months with a maximum of 100 participants. HCPH budgeted $1.28 million for the first year of the program with 52% of the funding intended to cover salaries.

Previous Community Impact Newspaper reporting discussed the rise of maternal mortality rates along with efforts to reduce those rates in the Houston area.

County towing agreement

Ramsey has requested a discussion about an agreement with AutoReturn, a San Francisco-based company that provides towing management services. The company acts as a link between law enforcement and tow truck companies and sends the closest available tow truck to the site, preventing a competition between different companies to arrive first, according to AutoReturn’s website.

The county executed a service agreement with the company last October for a pilot period of one year—at no cost to the county—to manage towing for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in police-initiated tows, owner-requested tows and private property impounds.

Per the agreement provided by the Office of County Administration, AutoReturn’s services are funded by a $22 administrative fee paid by the towing companies or storage facilities, which is then billed to the vehicle operator. Drivers pay another $5.50 to the storage facilities or to the towing company if it takes the vehicle elsewhere, according to Thomas Gilliland, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.

The agreement stated in total, drivers would have to pay $173 to the county once the program is fully implemented, less than the city of Houston’s rate of $175.50. The current county rate is $145.50, according to the county’s tow truck ordinance.

AutoReturn operates in Austin, Fort Worth, Round Rock and San Antonio.

Outsourcing inmates

The Office of the Purchasing Agent is requesting approval for a $25.75 million agreement with Management & Training Corp., a contractor that operates prisons, to outsource inmates to the Giles Dalby Correctional Facility in Post, outside of Lubbock.

Prior to entering a contract with MTC on June 28, commissioners had already approved two separate appropriations of $1.52 million and $7.62 million earlier this year to divert the jail population. According to agenda documentation, a jail renovation project, a mandate from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and increases in the average inmate stay from 65-85 days pre-Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19 to up to 200 days in 2022 led the sheriff’s office to make the funding requests.

The sheriff’s office anticipated outsourcing may be required for up to seven years, according to its funding request.

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