County Judge KP George identifies broadband, economic development, infrastructure as priorities for Fort Bend County
15 Mar 2023
By: Asia Armour - Community Impact
One of the most comforting things Fort Bend County Judge KP George said he heard when he attended the National Association of Counties legislative conference in February was the abundance of fiscal resources available for local governments' infrastructure and community building.
“There is an infrastructure bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, ... the Inflation Reduction Act,” George said in an interview with Community Impact. “We have more resources than ever before to engage the community.”
The annual legislative conference from Feb. 11-14 brought nearly 2,000 elected and appointed county officials together in Washington, D.C., to discuss federal policy issues that impact counties and their residents, according to the organization's website. George said NACo membership includes more than 3,600 counties of varying sizes from all over the U.S.
This year, George said conversations centered around economic recovery from the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, health and human services, community development, President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and broadband connectivity.
“President Biden’s goal is for every household to have a broadband connection by the next 10 years—which is a very ambitious goal,” George said. “But the thing about this time, they actually are providing resources to accomplish that goal.”
Infrastructure encompasses a large scope of work. In Fort Bend County, 60% of the land mass is under- or undeveloped, George said. Resources from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could be used to renovate aging structures, repair roads and bridges or improve public transit, he said. Funds could also ensure water and power reliability, such as to sustain the region’s power grid.
George said the county is currently engaged with a consultant to “get every penny available” for priority projects.
“For [Fort Bend County], the top priorities would be roads, bridges, highways, pedestrian safety, public safety and broadband,” George said. “We will be looking into funding sources for those.”
George held a press conference March 8 in partnership with Stafford ISD and Robyn Doughtie, Fort Bend County's information technology director, to implore county residents to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Map.
This resource will determine eligibility for accessing Texas’ $42.5 billion share of the federal Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program, which is part of the infrastructure bill. George said the map does not accurately show the need for connectivity in Fort Bend County, especially with the findings from the county’s 2022 Broadband Feasibility Study.
The county's study, which was released in July, called for the construction of a $36.76 million underground network pathway to bring internet coverage to underserved communities throughout the county.
Aside from broadband and infrastructure, George said he listened for initiatives and resources for the county’s health care facilities as well as both the health and human services and behavioral health services departments.
“These two items are important even also at the state level,” he said. “The legislature is in session, and there have been conversations about investing money into mental health.”
Additionally, furthering the county through economic development is a major focus, George said.
“We just established our economic development department when the budget cycle started Oct. 1,” George said. “We are going full fledge with that, because that is the future of how we can improve and how we can bring more jobs.”