County Judge: 2005 A Challenging Year

Calling 2005 a trying year, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says last year's big storms proved that the greater Houston area is ready for whatever mother nature throws at it. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, Eckels' comments came during his annual "State of the County" address.

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Eckels says there's no question.

"Harris County and the Greater Houston region is better prepared than any major metropolitan area in the United States for hurricane or natural or man-made disaster."

The County Judge, in office for the past 12 years, addressed city, county and business leaders in what was mostly a look back to a year that included the arrival of thousands of Katrina evacuees and an evacuation of our own during Rita.

"Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 taught us that our resolve might be our greatest resourse and with Katrina and Rita we persevered in the face of an unprecedented challenge and yes, delays. We always learn from experience and we learned a lot last Fall."

Aside from preparing for storms, Eckels says health care might be the county's biggest challenge in 2006. He says one in every 36 uninsured Americans lives in Harris County or an adjacent county, which means the Harris County Hospital District has become a safety net of sorts for the region's sick.

"Last year, we wrote off $1.3 billion in charity care. That trend threatens our long-term ability to provide trauma and emergency room service and health care to the people of this region, this communty, who have no other means to provide health care for themselves."

Eckels also praised Houston mayor Bill White for the city's response during the recent storms. He says the cooperation between the city and county during one of the area's most trying times was an affirmation of a special relationship.

"The knowledge that there really is more that unites us than devides us. And that the ties that bind are the ties the sustain our growth as a community. The ties that bind are the ties that give us hope and keep us afloat in the rough waters. The ties that bind really are the stuff of miracles, and that was easy to see this past year."

The county judge also had praise for local emergency managers who coordinated the impromptu creation of a mini-city for New Orleans evacuees inside the Astrodome after Katrina.

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