As the chairs of Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle laid vacant in Commissioners Court, both commissioners released email statements at the beginning of the meeting confirming they would not show to vote on the proposed overall tax rate of $0.57508 per $100 of assessed value—a 1% decrease from the previous year’s rate of $0.58135.
“We were only beginning to get back on our feet from the economic burdens imposed by COVID[-19] restrictions when historic inflation levels came along and knocked many of us flat again,” Cagle said. “Now is not the time for local government to take advantage of inflated property appraisals to pay for an expanded government footprint. Now is when we should be fighting alongside taxpayers to help them dig out from under the rubble.”
Reading Cagle’s statement aloud, County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the decision not to attend the meeting a campaign move.
“What I see is two colleagues who don’t have a plan—they have a campaign ad,” Hidalgo said. “It’s a sad day when politics-first challenges democracy. ... The ability to provide health services, the flood control, the crime fighting—the most apolitical topic that anyone could agree on.”
Without a four-member quorum, the court could not legally vote to adopt a set of tax rates. Instead, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Hidalgo voted 3-0 to adopt the annualized version of the short fiscal year 2022 budget for the county and the Harris County Flood Control District.
County Administrator David Berry said he recommended the court adopt the amended budget—which is $104 million smaller than the $2.24 billion budget proposed Aug. 23—to avert a government shutdown.
But Daniel Ramos, the executive director of the Office of Management and Budget, reiterated what he said during an Aug. 2 meeting that all departments would face some level of cut.
“Across the board, our costs are going up,” Ramos said. “In addition, each one of [the department’s] positions costs more than it did in short fiscal year 22.”
Amended budget impacts
Several county department heads spoke virtually at the meeting to address the impacts to their level of service based on a budget at the no-new-revenue rate, and a table from the county’s budget office shows the differences between the amended budget and the proposed budget.
The final deadline to vote to adopt tax rates is Oct. 28, Berry said. The budget office had recommended the voter-approval rate for the HCFCD and a rate slightly lower than the voter-approval rate for the county’s general fund, both of which automatically drop to the no-new-revenue rate if the commissioners cannot reach a quorum to vote on the tax rates.
The HCFCD’s no-new-revenue rate leaves the district’s budget at $114 million, which is $23.1 million less than the proposed budget.
According to their respective statements, Ramsey and Cagle will pledge $7 million from each of their precinct’s budgets to the HCFCD.
Tina Petersen, executive director of the HCFCD, said her office had not received details on that potential funding.
“We would need to understand the potential restrictions on those funds,” said Petersen, joining the meeting virtually. “It would be very difficult for me to even speculate as to what those dollars could be used for or should be used for.”