We’ve heard countless stories about the repairs and rebuilding that will continue for untold months to come in Texas cities devastated by Hurricane Harvey, but here’s something that doesn’t get much attention – it’s a kind of downward spiral that’s getting worse and makes the possibly of rebuilding grow more distant.
Andy Uhler, a Marketplace reporter based in Texas, has been looking into the economic impact in Rockport, where Harvey first made landfall. The bottom line is that many people’s homes in Rockport don’t exist anymore, so people have left.
“Officials – the mayor, county judges, whomever – are saying ‘Look, I don’t blame you if you don’t come back, because FEMA has given you money to go somewhere else, to get a hotel, to rent a property, because we don’t have any places for people to stay here in Rockport,’” Uhler says.
There’s no way to know if, or when, Rockport residents might return.
Uhler says Rockport’s mayor C.J. Wax recently told him, “If you have to live as far away as Portland [Texas] to find a place to live and you were working in a restaurant, are you going to drive back here to work in a restaurant or are you going to get a restaurant job in Portland? Especially if the compensation is about the same.”
That’s why Rockport’s financial forecast could continue to worsen over time, not improve.
“All of that tax revenue – property taxes, sales taxes, things like that – are going to other places,” Uhler says. “They’re going to Corpus Christi, which is about half an hour away, or Victoria, which is an hour away. So people just aren’t paying those taxes in, which is stifling the government to rebuild.”
Uhler also spoke with County Judge Burt Mills, who said, “If my house was gone, blown away this year, and I got a tax statement this month or last month – it was last month – I’d say, ‘I’m not paying my taxes, I don’t have a house.”
So how will Rockport pay its bills for basic services like trash collection or police?
Uhler says that, according to Rockport’s mayor, the city can afford 147 days of emergency maintenance, but those days are dwindling down now.
“He doesn’t have any revenue to sort of bolster that number again, and so he’s looking at federal officials, he’s looking at state officials,” Uhler says. “He’s looking at anybody to help them out with basically loans.”
Written by Jen Rice.