To say the two month transition period is a busy time for Mark Henry would be an understatement. Gone are the long lunches he says he used to take, along with the ability to call it a day by 5 p.m. Now, he starts checking e-mail at 6:30 in the morning..
"And my days probably wrap up with phone calls in the 8 to 9 p.m. range. 'Cause I've got a lot of background material to catch up on, because I'm expected to run this county starting January 1st. "
Many politicians rely on their campaign staffs to make transitions like the one facing Judge-elect Henry. But he didn't have a paid staff, just volunteers. And he's hoping he can get some volunteer help for scheduling all those meetings he needs to get up to speed on things like how the county manages water supplies and infrastructure. Henry says there's one issue in particular he wants to have a firm grasp on by the time he's sworn in.
"The county has got a number, and I can't even give you a number, of construction projects that are in various phases — from engineering, to bidding, to award construction to completion. And that's one thing I just do not have a good handle at this point where we stand on all these construction projects in the county."
Besides knowing what's up with those projects, Henry is eager to tackle the budget. He says part of his Air Force training helped him find and eliminate waste in government operations. He wants to apply those lessons in his new job. But until he has more information about Galveston County's spending plan, he's not making any promises about how much fat he thinks he can trim.
"I would like to sit here and say that I could cut ten percent in the next two years, and that would be a stretch goal, and I certainly hope I am successful in doing that. I don't have enough specifics at my fingertips to say 'yes, that's a real and attainable goal.'"
Henry says once he has a better understanding of county operations, he wants to focus on lowering property taxes — specifically rolling back the increase enacted last year to support indigent care at University of Texas Medical Branch. The tax has brought in about $15 million dollars in extra revenue, with only about 10 percent of that going to the hospital.
"I'm all for keeping UTMB right where it is, and supporting UTMB. But it's clear we way overshot the mark for the tax revenue needed to provide indigent health care. And when that became apparent, the commissioners just moved that money to debt service. As far as I know, they didn't consider reducing the tax rate and giving the taxpayers their money back."
Judge-elect Henry says a 10 percent cut in property taxes will be essential to his plans to help balance growth in the county, and attract more people to settle on Galveston Island, which has been losing population since the 1960s. Between the budget, taxes, and hurricane preparedness, Henry has a full plate. But he says he intends to keep running his business, Talon Air. It buys surplus aircraft parts from the federal government, catalogs and warehouses those parts, and then sells them back to the government.