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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Talks Resiliency, 2020 Focus

Published Nov 19, 2019 by Kelsey Seeker

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

In her first State of the County address, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo detailed the county’s accomplishments in key areas, including community engagement, criminal justice reform, resiliency and flood control. Judge Hidalgo also announced that early childhood development would be a focus for her administration in 2020.

Hidalgo started her TED-style keynote with a number displayed on the screen: $5,093,442,000. That is the county budget for the current fiscal year. 

Hidalgo noted that during her campaign last year and in the early days after she was elected, several people told her county was really just responsible for maintaining roads and bridges. “That’s more than bridge money,” Hidalgo said, pointing at the screen. “With that sort of budget, you can build bridges to opportunity for the people of Harris County.”

Harris County is the third most populous county in the nation and is experiencing rapid growth in comparison to other major counties across the county. It is home to nearly 4.7 million residents and more than 116,000 businesses. 

“The strength of Harris County is essential to the overall strength of the greater Houston region and its place among top metros,” Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey said. 

Bolstering Harris County’s Resiliency Efforts

Hidalgo highlighted the drainage improvement projects the County fast-tracked for the 105 subdivisions in unincorporated Harris County that flooded due to poor drainage infrastructure, and the 1,178 homes that were saved from potential flooding as a result of the work to buy out houses in floodplains. 

“The truth is, there is no silver bullet to flooding. But we can take the most meaningful, aggressive steps to get to where we need to be,” Hidalgo said. “That’s why we're shifting the paradigm on how we deal with flood control to put people and science over politics.”

Harvey applauded Judge Hidalgo’s response after Tropical Storm Imelda and the establishment of the Imelda Assistance Fund. He referenced the Partnership’s work with county, city and state officials to pass state legislation that secured $2 billion flood planning, recovery and resilience package. That will draw down an additional $5 billion in federal funding. 

With the approval of State Constitutional Amendment Proposition 8 earlier this month, $793 million will be dedicated to address future flood mitigation needs across the state of Texas through the creation of the Flood Infrastructure Fund.

“The momentum to achieving significant improvement to the region’s flood resiliency is building, and necessary for our continued growth,” Harvey said. “The Partnership looks forward to working with Judge Hidalgo and her administration to ensure this momentum continues and a more resilient Houston prevails.”

Other Reforms 

In highlighting the County’s criminal justice reform efforts, Hidalgo cited an independent study showing that over a five-year period with bail reform in effect, 1,600 fewer felonies would have been committed. After accounting for both reductions in jail time and increases in probation time, the county would have saved an estimated $20 million in supervision costs alone.

“The bottom line is that we don’t have to choose between protecting public safety and protecting the constitutional rights of defendants,” Hidalgo said.

On the air quality front, Hidalgo pointed to the county committing millions of dollars in September to build a state-of-the-art air monitoring network, hire public health and safety experts, and add resources for HazMat First Responders. "We are working to shift from a reactive, to a proactive stance when it comes to our environment," she said. "All told, this represents the most significant expansion of the County’s ability to address environmental challenges in at least 30 years."

Early Childhood Education Harris County 2020 Focus

Hidalgo ended with an announcement of the County’s focus in the coming year – an emphasis on early childhood development. 

“Early childhood programs have more of the strongest returns on investment for any type of public program,” Hidalgo said. “Early next year, we will engage our community in a series of conversations regarding early childhood development and education during the crucial first 3 or 4 years of a child’s life.”

With four times as many people having come to speak before Commissioners Court this year as compared with all of 2018, high levels of community engagement are expected as Hidalgo seeks community input on the new initiative. 

“Our job is to focus on the intersection between what meaningfully impacts our community and where the county has the authority and ability to make a positive difference,” Hidalgo said. "The issues we prioritized this year were about core immediate needs. Tomorrow is about not only continuing that work, but also building on that progress to invest in our future." 

View Judge Hidalgo's full speech and learn more about Harris County

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Houston Companies Planning Return to Offices, Plot Post-COVID Changes

3/30/21
Twenty-eight percent of Houston area companies say they have already fully reopened their offices and worksites as the region continues its recovery from COVID-19. Another 9% are planning to fully reopen in April or May and 21% believe they will reopen in June, July or August, according to a new survey by the Greater Houston Partnership of its member companies. September is the target date for 11% of companies while another 3% say it will be October or later. A substantial number (28%) say they haven’t yet determined a reopening date. The vast majority (83%) of respondents said the decision to reopen will be made at the local level and 69% said they will stagger employee return during their reopening instead of calling everyone back at the same time.  Roughly two-thirds (64%) of companies have made decisions on their in-person vs. remote work approach going forward.  Of those, 80% are going to expect employees to be in the office three or more days a week.  When it comes to vaccine protocols, 75% of companies say they will encourage but not require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work. Just 6% say they will require the vaccine before employees can return and the remaining 19% have not yet determined a formal plan. Many respondents said a key factor in deciding when to return to the office is that all staff have access to the vaccine.  As new COVID-19 cases in our region decline and more Houstonians get vaccinated, area businesses are beginning to contemplate what the “new normal” will look like post-pandemic and when to begin moving in that direction. “We deployed this survey to help guide companies on that next leg of the journey,” said Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey. “These results tell us that companies are eagerly encouraging their employees to get vaccinated and preparing to bring employees back into the workplace in a carefully considered, safe manner.”  “I want to be clear, we are not out of danger yet; serious virus variants are present in Houston, and more residents need to be vaccinated in the coming weeks before we can definitively declare the worst over,” Harvey said. “Nevertheless, with all adult Texans now eligible for the vaccine and dose availability continuing to ramp up, companies need to prepare now for how they will effectively manage in a post-COVID environment.”  A total of 133 companies responded to the Partnership survey conducted March 22-25. Nearly half of respondents (46%) said they are comfortable attending in-person events today while another 25% said they won’t be ready for in-person events until the CDC declares the nation has reached herd immunity. The remaining respondents said they expect to be comfortable over the next few months.  How companies will assist their employees in the new hybrid environment was the focus of another survey question. Thirty-three percent said they have offered some form of payment/reimbursement to employees to outfit their home workspaces and another 10% say they are considering such a program. Click here for a PDF of the topline results of the survey. 
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