Harris County budget office recommends tax rate decrease ahead of Sept. 29 discussion
Members of the Harris County Commissioners Court are expected to discuss where to set the property tax rate for fiscal year 2020-21 at a Sept. 29 meeting, and a recently released recommendation from the county's budget office suggests a no-new-revenue rate could be proposed to support the county's general needs. (Courtesy Fotolia)
However, officials are also proposing a tax rate increase specifically for the county's flood control district to avoid a $18.6 million cut in funding.
The overall tax rate paid by residents in Harris County is made up of four separate rates, all of which are set by the Commissioners Court. Aside from the general rate and the flood control district rate, commissioners will discuss the tax rate for the hospital district and the Port of Houston at the Sept. 29 meeting.
The county's general tax rate has historically been the biggest piece of the pie, making up about two-thirds of the overall tax rate for FY 2019-20—or $0.40713 of $0.61170. Rates for the flood control district, hospital district and Port of Houston were set at $0.02792, $0.16591 and $0.01074, respectively.
The budget office proposal would involve lowering the overall tax rate by about $0.013-$0.02. The county tax rate would be lowered to $0.39116, while the flood control district tax rate would be raised to $0.03142.
The Port of Houston tax rate—which is only used to fund debt service—would be lowered slightly to $0.00991. The budget office provided a recommended range for the hospital district of somewhere between $0.15883-$0.16671, citing the district's strong financial shape and uncertainty regarding its future needs. Commissioners will debate which direction to go at the Sept. 29 meeting.
In an email statement, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said he supported both the no-new-revenue rate for the county and the increased rate for the flood control district.
"In the midst of this pandemic, I know that our neighbors need relief, and I remain committed to doing our part in helping them in this difficult time," Garcia said. "Pandemic or not, Harris County remains at risk for devastating flooding, so this proposed tax rate does an effective job of easing the tax burden on residents while being able to continue to fund crucial county priorities."
Commissioners previously took up the conversation at an Aug. 6 meeting but declined to take any action until after appraisal rolls were certified and the Harris County Appraisal District was able to provide a clearer picture of property values in the county. At the time, Harris County Budget Director Dave Berry said a no-new-revenue tax rate could result in a $10 million budget shortfall.
With the rolls certified, the budget office has updated its projections to show tax revenue coming in at about $1.6 billion—or $38.5 million over budget—under the no-new-revenue rate. The proposed tax rate increase for the flood control district would bring in about $123.7 million—or $3.3 million more in revenue than budgeted—as opposed to a $18.6 million budget shortfall under the no-new-revenue rate.
Commissioners will not vote on a tax rate at the Sept. 28 meeting, and a date will be set within the next few weeks for when a formal vote will take place.