Several things should be considered after disasters

By Helen Walker - Guest Column
Sept. 8, 2017 at 4:36 p.m.
Updated Sept. 9, 2017 at 7:38 a.m.

   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

In view of the plight of many members of our community, who live within the reach of the Guadalupe River flooding or who suffered wind damage and damages to Victoria's water system from Hurricane Harvey, we should consider several options.

First, citizens of Victoria and Victoria County, immediately, via local, state and federal officials, should urge Congress to provide additional funding for FEMA for benefit of victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as well as wildfires in the West and floods elsewhere in the nation recently. These natural disasters cannot be prepared for and can seriously damage our nation's economy.

Second, urge city and county government to seek all avenues to receive FEMA funds for the buyout of homes in the floodplain (Victoria Advocate editorial Sept. 6) to create safety for our citizens, many of whom are elderly or disabled.

Some didn't want to sell their homes after the 1998 500-year flood, but ownership of properties has changed in some cases, and an aging population may have changed their minds throughout the past 19 years. Perhaps seeking more appropriate locations for lower and mid-income housing (one goal of the Victoria Alliance) is needed to help these citizens relocate to safer and healthier homes.

Further, removal of structures and creation of green space provide benefits such as minimizing flood damage by providing quicker flow of water downstream. This could also provide future needs for parks and recreational facilities that would not be badly damaged by flooding.

Funding should also be sought from FEMA, state water agencies, and river authorities, to name a few possibilities, to upgrade our water system and help prevent future breakdowns such as we have been facing now.

At a recent Council meeting, Councilman Tom Halepaska spoke in favor of raising the city's tax rate an extra penny in order to begin funding for maintenance and upgrade of city infrastructure - streets, utilities, etc. - to keep them viable for the future. Four days later, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on us. It is too late for action this year, but both city and county leaders should take a strong look at future needs.

One cent on a $200,000 house (slightly higher than average valuation, I believe) would increase the tax by $20 per year. Lots of people in Victoria have spent far more than that on bottled water and ice during the past two weeks.

While I consider myself a fiscal conservative, small tax increases shall surely be necessary over the next few years to continue to make Victoria a vibrant and vital place to live. Our place as a regional medical, retail and industrial center for Victoria and our surrounding counties is dependent on forward-looking and careful stewardship of our abundant resources. Let's work to save lives and improve Victoria.

Lastly, thank you, county and city leaders, for your quick, courteous and efficient use of personnel and equipment in this difficult time. You and your employees deserve a big standing ovation.

Helen Walker served as Victoria County judge from 1991 to 2002.


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