USA — AUSTIN – Two years after one of the worst wildfire seasons in Texas history, state lawmakers are still working to cover the costs associated with those disasters.
Statewide, fires damaged or destroyed nearly 3,000 homes and burned more 4 million acres. The biggest loss was in Bastrop County – nearly 1,700 homes and more than 32,000 acres, according to the Texas Forest Service.
Much of that cost could be covered in a measure before the Texas House – just part of a string of “supplemental” items lawmakers now have to go back and pay. The biggest needs on their agenda right now are health care, public education, wildfire costs and prisoner health care.
The wildfire price tag ranks third with $161 million. It is currently covered in House Bill 1025. The money would go to the Texas Forest Service for battling those fires. It should hit the House floor by the middle of this month.
The plan is to pay for the wildfire tab with a surplus from the last session. But Go. Rick Perry’s office has another suggestion, if lawmakers need another source of cash. His budget recommendation for the upcoming session was to pay nearly that same amount – $160 million – with money from the coveted Rainy Day Fund – which he has said should only be used in emergencies, including natural disasters.
But House budget writers have not taken that route, so far. Their wildfire payment plan not only includes TFS, but also $2.7 million for the Department of Public Safety’s cost for fighting the fires and millions more for the Parks and Wildlife Department. That portion is about $5 million that would help Bastrop State Park rebuild.
A looming April deadline means Bastrop County must also find money to pull down $3 million from FEMA to help prevent future wildfires. But it does not stop there.
So far, the county has paid $5.6 million toward recovery efforts. Now, it wants the state to help by paying more than $7 million more. Combined, those amounts would help tap $27 million from the federal government.