Harris County Commissioners Court
July 28, 2009, 10 am
Houston Tomorrow publishes notes from public meetings to help local governments in their mission to provide transparency and to allow a greater pool of citizens to participate in important policy discussions. These notes are not official meeting minutes, nor do they necessarily record every agenda item.
Note: The Commissioners Court covers a wide variety of topics. Questions or comments regarding agenda items are discussed during the meeting, and some items may be removed. At the end the commissioners vote on the agenda as a whole.
The Harris County Commissioners Court approved four Grand Parkway-related items on Tuesday, July 28, including a formal request for $181 million in stimulus funds and a financial study. The stimulus request is largely a formality, as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) already decided in February to give the money to Segment E of the Grand Parkway. The financial study request comes more than five months after the Commissioners Court waived the market valuation process, which would have provided detailed estimates of the costs and toll revenues involved. The other six counties involved followed suit in the next few weeks.
Commissioner Sylvia Garcia (Precinct 2) asked if the financial study would be completed before the local counties must assert their primacy on September 25. A representative of the Harris County Toll Road Authority testified that the bids would be open until mid-August, and Art Storey, executive director of the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department, told her, “We probably will not have a complete investment grade study by the time we bid [construction of Segment E in February].” Storey said that a preliminary study several years ago revealed that Segment E was the second-most viable section of the Grand Parkway, and that the project was in compliance with all of the requirements.
As for the $181 million stimulus request, Storey said that Segment E is the only section that could be shovel ready in time to qualify for federal assistance. “[TxDOT] made the assignment of the funding at the very last minute [in February],” he said, adding that “TxDOT recognizes that Segment E is inherently part of a larger project.” Garcia replied, “My concern is that is seems that TxDOT is changing things in the middle of the stream” by pursuing the financial study at the same time it is moving forward with Segment E. Storey responded that the Grand Parkway is not yet compliant in terms of soil and engineering work, but that the Segment E construction is compliant and eligible for funding. The commissioners unanimously approved the Grand Parkway items at the end of the meeting.
The commissioners also debated and ultimately denied $1,550 in funding to allow sheriff employees to participate in one marathon and one half-marathon. The funds would have come from general funding, and all general funds must be used for a public purpose. One representative of the Sheriff’s Office testified that the marathons qualified as a public purpose because they were part of a recruitment effort, and that the participating employees would wear special jerseys advertising the department’s jobs website. The commissioners disagreed, saying that if the department wanted to do that it would have to use seized funds.
The commissioners also adopted, without discussion, the new Harris County and City of Houston geometric design guidelines for subdivision streets, and approved a project to create new wetlands for the Harris County Flood Control District.
Three speakers spoke, one to contest a county roofing contract awarded to another company and two to bring light to human trafficking in the Houston region.
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