Image: Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Darren Hess addressed the Commissioners Court during a Special Meeting on Friday, September 1, 2017. If Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley looked befuddled, that’s because he was.
Conroe, September 2 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court held a Special Meeting at 6 p.m., Friday, September 1, 2017, to address issues arising from Tropical Storm Harvey. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack clearly were engaged in the discussion, while Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley appeared angry and befuddled.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner candidate and longtime Montgomery County Hospital District Board member Bob Bagley blasted the Commissioners Court for the actions they took.
Assistant County Attorney Amy Dunham and Emergency Management Director Darren Hess led most of the meeting. County Attorney J.D. Lambright, Sheriff Rand Henderson, and County Auditor Phyllis Martin also made meaningful contributions to the discussion.
The Commissioners Court approved two large debris removal contracts. Crowder Gulf received a $2 million contract while Tetra Technologies received a $250,000 contract, both for debris removal. The plan is to send out approximately two dozen trucks across Montgomery County to pick up debris from residents’ properties at the curbs. The trucks will not take debris off of private property, so it’s important for owners to sort their debris and place it at the edge of their home or other property for removal.
Riley noted that residents of River Plantation subdivision are particularly ready for the debris removal trucks to arrive and remove the debris from their properties. “RP is ready to be picked up,” Riley insisted.
The debris will then go to county yards as well as three private yards which individuals or companies are leasing to the county at a rate of approximately $1.50 per cubic yard of debris. The debris yards will have 24-hour security and fencing in order to prevent vandalism and looting. Final removal of the debris to authorized landfills will occur in accordance with United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations. Residents who bring debris directly to the yards will have to show identification or some proof that they are, indeed, residents of Montgomery County who suffered flood damage.
Bagley had some choice words for the entire Commissioners Court after the meeting. “I was very surprised how little the Commissioners Court seemed to know about the actual situation on the ground across Montgomery County. First, they’ve set up a system for picking up debris that requires homeowners to bring the debris to the curb for pickup. They may work in The Woodlands and some other areas, but in East Montgomery County, we don’t have curbs; instead, we have ditches that are next to the roads,” Bagley told The Golden Hammer.
“Where are people supposed to leave their debris for pickup if they don’t have a curb? The Commissioners Court is out of touch with the real people of this community,” Bagley said. Bailey added that the Court has set up an “impossible system” for elderly people who can’t get their debris picked up. “They’ll have to haul debris on trailers without the physical or financial means of doing that. While I served in the Air Force, one of my primary duties was emergency management. I can’t believe what I’m witnessing here in Montgomery County.”
Bagley has indicated that he has discussed his concerns with the County Judge and expressed disappointment that citizens comments weren’t allowed during the Commissioners Court meeting last night. Bagley has been working as a volunteer twelve to fifteen hours each day since the onset of Tropical Storm Harvey. Currently, he’s helping with debris cleanups in the Patton Village area. “That’s another aspect of the county action I can’t believe. People who live in some of the smaller cities will not get any county debris service, even though they pay county taxes,” Bagley noted.
Clark estimated during the meeting that there are seven to eight thousand homes in Montgomery County that received more than four inches of water during the flooding resulting from Tropical Storm Harvey and the release of water through the Lake Conroe Dam. Clark and Riley both noted that those numbers are almost twice the number of flooded homes during the 1994 flood.
The funds for the Harvey disaster cleanup will come from the Montgomery County fund balance, unspent funds from previous budget years that have accumulated in County coffers.
Clark and Riley have estimated that there is well over 50,000 cubic yards of debris.
Overtime payments and County building damage
Charlie Riley told the crowd at the meeting, “If we have to do this, we should be paid.” He referred to a proposal to pay overtime to County employees assisting with disaster cleanup and relief.
The Commissioners Court voted to pay all County employees, including exempt employees who receive salaries, overtime for any work beyond a normal 40 hour work week. Therefore, a salaried employee, such as jim fredricks who earns $118,178.27 in salary per year or Hess who earns $117,034.68 in salary per year, will receive overtime compensation for work beyond 40 hours per week during the past week or in the future related to Tropical Storm Harvey. The overtime compensation would be 1.5 times their normal salary rate divided into an hourly wage.
Hess provided little coordination of the law enforcement or rescue response to Tropical Storm Harvey. Nevertheless, Hess did end up running the County’s main shelter for victims of the disaster at the Lone Star Convention Center. Hess told the Commissioners Court that he was responsible for the fifteen hundred or so evacuees in the shelter.
Similarly, other high salary earners such as Building Maintenance Director Paul Case will also receive overtime compensation for doing their jobs in responding to emergencies. Case told the Commissioners Court that twenty-three County buildings have roof leaks that require immediate repairs and will total approximately $150,000 to complete. Case has recommended hiring an outside contractor to do the repairs.
Noack explained that his office and buildings in Precinct 3 off Pruitt Road in south Montgomery County took in approximately two inches of water that will require replacing all of the sheetrock throughout those buildings at a cost of approximately $490,000 to County taxpayers. That estimate includes all of the repairs to Precinct 3 buildings.
Both Assistant County Attorney Dunham and County Auditor Martin expressed optimism that FEMA would reimburse Montgomery County for substantial portions of the losses the County has sustained as a result of the Tropical Storm.
Noack told The Golden Hammer that he believes FEMA will reimburse Montgomery County for the overtime payments to employees as well.
Several County officials mentioned companies and individuals who wanted to contribute substantial funds to the County’s cleanup and disaster relief effort. Riley became quite angry during the discussion of donations when representatives of the County Attorney’s Office, the County Judge, Noack, and Clark all suggested that individual County Commissioners should not accept donations in the form of cash payments to the County. Martin and Dunham both explained that the County should accept donations by check but should not and cannot distribute funds to individuals.