Harris County Judge Ed Emmett could have easily re-written his annual status report on the state of the county, as the previous five have featured recurring themes: the government overall continues to be in good condition thanks to a triple-A bond rating, significant reserves in the bank and a low tax base.
“Commissioners Court passed the largest tax cut in county history back in 2007, and those taxes haven’t gone up since then. But perhaps the best news about the county’s financial condition is the fact that the Texas Comptroller’s Office has awarded Harris County its “Leadership Circle Gold Member Award” for financial transparency 3 years in a row. So not only are we in good shape financially, we’re transparent and that's important.”
He says keeping that economic engine thriving are a toll road authority that puts the county miles ahead of other urban areas, and an aggressive flood control district allows the county to adapt to the dangers of living on the Texas Gulf Coast.
In a county that’s grown to have more residents than 24 states, Judge Emmett says maintaining the quality of life is a constant quest.
“Funding for mental health care must be increased at the state level, and a plan must be implemented to divert those with mental health issues from the criminal justice system. The Harris County Jail should not be the largest mental health facility in the state of Texas. The Harris County Psychiatric Center should be fully utilized. By spending wisely on mental health reform, we can save much more in the criminal justice arena. But even more importantly, we can improve lives and do what’s right.”
Later Judge Emmett told reporters why he thinks it’s important to expand Medicaid.
“Fifty-point-four million dollars state funding for the next two years, draws down $4 billion dollars from the federal government. And the argument against it that has been put forward: ‘Well, but what happens after 10 years if the federal government starts funding it?’ Well, if we don’t use federal dollars to pay for it, then the property tax payers in Harris County are gonna have to pay for it through the Harris County Hospital District. So to me, it just makes total sense.”
Judge Emmett says there aren’t many examples where a government body has managed dramatic change and rapid growth as well as Harris County.