Annual ‘State of the Counties’ update presented by Katy area chamber, Katy EDC
11 Sep 2023
By: Susan Rovegno - Katy Times
A capacity crowd filled the ballroom at the Embassy Suites Energy Corridor to hear an update from key elected officials serving the greater Katy area. The luncheon, which was co-sponsored by the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce and the Katy Area Economic Development Council, took place at the hotel at 11730 Katy Freeway, Houston. Keynote speakers were Vincent Morales, Commissioner for Fort Bend County Precinct 1; Lesley Briones, Commissioner for Harris County Precinct 4; and Judge Trey Duhon, county judge for Waller County.
Matthew Ferraro, president/CEO of the Katy Chamber, and Angie Thomason, president/CEO of the EDC, welcomed guests to the meeting. Also greeting the attendees was Dawn Buckingham, Land Commissioner of the General Land Office for the state of Texas. “We love you and we are here to help,” she said.
Briones began her presentation by talking about partnerships among different governmental entities. “The bottom line is that we must approach everything as a partnership,” she said. She spoke about upcoming changes to the Harris County Toll Road Authority and its forthcoming “barrier free” program and about the expansion of the Westpark Tollway, which she said would soon add “multi-functional modes of transportation.” She mentioned the $2.5 billion expansion of public health services through clinics which serve the county through the Harris Health system. Harris Health operates the Danny Jackson Health Center at 5503 N. Fry Road in Katy.
Briones also said that she had received feedback from community leaders that Harris County was not as engaged in the Katy area as it should have been and that she was working to change that. According to Briones, her office has put out a call for partnership projects and the “winners” will be announced after Labor Day. Briones also gave an update on several mobility projects in the Katy area, such as the widening of Clay Road from Peek to Porter and installation of six traffic signals. She said that upcoming projects included the installation of signals at five high-traffic locations, the widening of the intersection of Clay Road and Katy Hockley Cutoff to accommodate larger commercial vehicles and the widening of Clay Road from Porter to Katy Hockley Cutoff.
Briones also spoke about Harris County Commissioners Court’ creation of an apprenticeship program, much of which will focus on the construction industry. In the area of public safety, Briones described the creation of a “retention incentive” for detention officers and also outlined a program which provides mental health services to women inmates in jail. Briones said that the precinct would be hosting a breakfast in September to facilitate communication with area leaders, including the chamber, school districts and area officials. “We are here to ensure that we are driving the whole region forward,” she said.
Waller County Judge Trey Duhon then took the stage and thanked Buckingham and the GLO for the $8.7 million check that Waller County received for three flood mitigation projects. Duhon focused his remarks on the growth in his area. “We’ve known for a long time that growth is coming; now it is here and it is exponential and explosive and beyond what anybody expected or could have imagined,” he said. Waller County currently has a population of around 65,000 residents – but at present, there are between 35,000 and 40,000 homes under varying stages of construction within the county, he said. He stated that earlier projections showed that the county would double in population by 2040; Duhon predicted that would happen before the end of this decade. Waller County has put together a strategic plan, Duhon said, which will add green spaces, trails and bike paths to serve these new residents. “That is now the challenge – ramping everything up and streamlining processes,” he said. Duhon described how the county’s tax base had increased 22 per cent, with over $1 billion in new value on the ground, including residential and commercial.
The county’s proposed budget, which will be voted on in the county commissioners court meeting on September 6, will add 19 new employees to the county payroll will provide a five percent salary increase for employees and will absorb the cost increases for county employees’ heath insurance. Elected officials will also see a salary increase. If the budget passes, Duhon said, it will lower the tax rate another 2.5 cents.
Duhon also reported that Waller County is trying to build a new courthouse, and that in the interim, the county offices will temporarily move into a property that the county purchased on FM 1488.
The judge also discussed Waller County’s first-ever mobility bond, which will appear on the November ballot. The bond will address traffic capacity and safety issues, Duhon said, and “will allow us to address a lot of programs at once.” He said that $108 million of the bond was tagged for projects in Waller County Precinct 4, which includes the Sunterra subdivision immediately north of old Katy. Duhon concluded his remarks by mentioning broadband development, which he described as a high priority and he also acknowledged the need for continued commercial development in the area, through the Waller County EDC.
Fort Bend County Commissioner Vincent Morales, who serves the county’s Precinct 1 in the northern part of the county, highlighted the development of the county’s new multi-purpose center – The Epicenter, which opened in mid-August at 28505 Southwest Freeway in Rosenberg. adjacent to the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds. The 230,000 square-foot facility has an annex of 17,700 square feet; a 17,000-square foot conference center; and a 36,000-square foot pavilion which can be used for livestock, equestrian or agricultural events. The facility has 10,000 seats, Morales said – 8500 permanent seats and 1500 seats which can be added to the floor. “This is an asset to the county which will serve for many years to come,” Morales said. He said that a top-ranked ESPN boxing event will be broadcast live nationally and that the program would also feature a segment on Fort Bend County for the nation to see. He said wrestling was coming to the facility as well as a gun show and other events. Morales said that the Epicenter would also give a home to area school districts who need a place to hold their graduation ceremonies, and that Fort Bend ISD and Lamar CISD will be holding their 2024 graduations there.
Morales also spoke on Fort Bend County’s upcoming mobility and parks bonds, which are on the November ballot. “This bond will create a more mobile and safe Fort Bend County,” he said. Morales gave a brief history of past mobility bond issues and stated that it is important to continue to have a mobility bond every two to three years in order to keep up with growth. It takes about three years to design a project, to acquire the right of way, and to relocate utilities before a shovel ever hits the ground, he said. The proposed bond package contains road maintenance and traffic safety projects in each of the Fort Bend County precincts, Morales said. The bond would also fund “smart signal” technology which would help to adjust the timing of traffic signals for optimum vehicle flow, he said.
The $153 million parks bond would add new amenity programs and would improve existing park facilities throughout the county, including the addition of fields for soccer, football and pickleball. Morales described the “disc golf” course at Jones Creek Park which he said is attracting a lot of attention from the Houston area. Proposed park improvements include improved lighting, improved public restrooms, and improved parking facilities, as well as an assortment of additional trails.