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Capital Highlights
Wednesday, November 7, 2007 • Posted November 6, 2007

Audit shows hurricane relief funds largely unspent

Now the public has information about what's been happening with federal funding Texas received to help recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

The State Auditor's Office on Nov. 1 released a report showing that most of the $523.7 million in disaster funding received by Texas has not been spent.

Two state agencies, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs and the Office of Rural Community Affairs, are responsible for administering the funds.

According to the report, Housing and Community Affairs spent only $1.1 million or 2.6 percent of the $42.6 million in Community Development Block Grant funds the federal government initially awarded to it in May 2006 for hurricane recovery.

As of Sept. 14, 2007, only 13 applicants had benefited from a delivered product, and those "delivered products" were manufactured homes.

Housing and Community Affairs used $231,066 or 21 percent of the funding for administrative expenses.

Regarding the other agency that received funds, the Office of Rural Community Affairs, the audit reflects complexities tied to spending the money because of the timing and mechanics of reimbursements by FEMA, the federal disaster agency.

Meanwhile, the audit noted, many disaster aid applicants are still living in FEMA trailers.

Official predicts low turnout

Secretary of State Phil Wilson, Texas' chief elections officer, on Nov. 2 projected an overall turnout of 9.5 percent of registered Texas voters in the Nov. 6 election.

"This election is important, and I encourage Texans to head to the polls and prove me wrong," Wilson said.

According to a press release from his office, Wilson examined a variety of factors when projecting this year's turnout, including prior levels of voter turnout, voter registration numbers and early voting trends to date.

Throughout early voting, which was conducted Oct. 22 through Nov. 2, the Secretary of State's office tracked turnout from the state's 15 most populous counties. Those counties account for more than 60 percent of all registered voters in Texas.

Perry names TCEQ commissioner

Gov. Rick Perry on Nov. 1 appointed Bryan W. Shaw of Bryan to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a term to expire Aug. 31, 2013.

The commission establishes, oversees and implements clean air, clean water and other environmental policies for the state of Texas.

Shaw, an associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering for Texas A&M University, specializes in air pollution engineering.

He replaces Kathleen Hartnett White of Valentine, whose term expired last summer. The agency's other two commissioners are Buddy Garcia and Larry Soward.

AG launches safety initiative

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Nov. 1 called for new safety measures designed to protect students from school violence.

Abbott urged school districts to implement new safety procedures to help prevent a Columbine or Virginia Tech-style shooting in Texas.

The Attorney General's Office is working on the issue with the Texas School Safety Center, an agency created in 1999 after the Columbine, Colo., tragedy. The organization provides schools with research, training, and technical assistance to reduce youth violence and promote safety in Texas schools.

Abbott made a number of recommendations for school districts to be prepared should trouble arise, such as develop, implement and annually practice campus emergency plans. Schools should team up with law enforcement to practice school safety drills once a year, he said.

Texas Clipper to live on as reef

The decommissioned ship, Texas Clipper, on Nov. 15 will be sunk in the Gulf of Mexico 17 miles off South Padre Island and become an artificial reef.

The 473-foot, 7,000-ton World War II-vintage ship served from 1965 to 1996 as a training vessel for Texas A&M University-Galveston. Because it will attract sport fishing and diving, the new reef is expected to generate as much as $30 million annually for local economies over a lifespan of at least 50 years, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

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