Following a three-week break, Harris County commissioners will receive a briefing on the fiscal year 2022-23 budget, vote to approve funding for outreach for the $1.2 billion November bond and discuss logistics related to the November election at their Aug. 23 meeting.

The agenda for Commissioners Court is released at 9 a.m. on the Friday before each meeting. The meetings are held at 10 a.m. and are available to livestream here.

Budget presentation and tax rate

Daniel Ramos, executive director of the Harris County Office of Management and Budget, will present the proposed budget for FY 2022-23, which includes the county’s general fund as well as budgets for the Harris County Toll Road Authority and the Harris County Flood Control District.

Ramos told Community Impact Newspaper the OMB is recommending an operating budget of $2.24 billion for the county’s general fund and a county tax rate of $0.36035 per $100 of assessed value. This is lower than the voter-approval rate—the maximum rate allowed under Senate Bill 2—of $0.36054, calculated by Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett and submitted to the court for the Aug. 23 meeting.

SB 2 requires a city or county to hold an election if it proposes collecting greater than 3.5% more revenue than in the previous year. Because the county has a greater tax base to draw from as property value assessments have risen, the total overall proposed rate for the general fund and the HCFCD of $0.39511 is 3.7% lower than the 2021 rate of $0.41042. This constitutes the county’s fourth consecutive overall tax rate reduction, according to Ramos.

Following the Aug. 23 meeting, commissioners will hold public engagement meetings for their precincts throughout September and will amend and adopt the budget. A vote on the tax rate would likely occur Sept. 13 with the budget going into effect Oct. 1.

November bond outreach

Two departments have requested funding to proceed with public engagement efforts for the $1.2 billion bond, which was approved by a split 3-2 vote at a special meeting of Commissioners Court on Aug. 18 and is headed to ballot for the Nov. 8 elections.

The Harris County Office of the County Engineer has requested to spend no more than $20,000 on “various venues” for public meetings across the county, according to backup information provided in the agenda. The county is expected to use its own buildings for most of the meetings but may require flexibility to schedule public meetings in churches, schools and other facilities not owned by the county.

Commissioners could also approve three agreements for public outreach requested by the Harris County Purchasing Department: $350,000 with Holloway Environmental and Communications Services Inc., $150,000 with Elmore Public Relations, Inc. and $150,000 with KGB Texas Communications.

All three companies have been previously approved by commissioners for other county work with Houston-based Holloway assisting the HCTRA on various public relations efforts since May and Elmore and KGB delivering communications services for the 2018 HCFCD flood bond program since last November, according to agenda documentation.

Path toward November elections

Several items on this week’s agenda pertain to the upcoming November elections.

In a 4-1 vote Aug. 16, members of the Harris County Election Commission approved Clifford Tatum, a former federal elections head in Washington, D.C., as the county’s new elections administrator. Tatum can officially assume the position once commissioners approve his public official bond, a document that allows the county to collect if an official fails to perform their duties “faithfully,” according to First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne.

Commissioners will vote to approve nominees for presiding or alternate election judges with terms lasting until July 31, 2023. They will also vote to approve polling locations; the elections administrator’s office has submitted 90 early-voting locations and 782 countywide polling locations, according to backup information in the agenda. Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle have both put items on the agenda to discuss their concerns over polling locations.

The elections administrator’s office is also requesting an initial $1.14 million for an election management system to replace the county’s current VEMACS system, which was last updated in 2003. Currently, the office uses two separate databases to manage voter registration and election management. According to the project timeline provided in backup information to the agenda, features of a new system would be used as secondary backup to VEMACS for the May 2023 local elections with full implementation of the project set for February 2024.

Safe school commission recommendations

Recommendations from the Harris County Safe School Commission will be released at the Aug. 23 meeting, and Ramsey has requested discussion and possible action based on the commission’s findings of how to address school safety concerns.

The five-member commission first met June 30 and includes Saami Baig, a high school student at the John Cooper School in The Woodlands; Traci Latson, a teacher at the Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Calandrian Simpson Kemp, founder of No Weapon #1Life Empowerment Foundation and member of Moms Demand Action; Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen; and Lisa Andrews Alpe, vice president of the Spring Branch ISD school board.

Terminating the burn ban

Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen has recommended lifting the burn ban, which commissioners approved across unincorporated areas of Harris County on June 28.

Per Section 352.081 of the Harris County Fire Code, the county can implement a burn ban when the Keetch-Byram Drought Index average is 575 or greater. The index ranges from 0-800 with 800 representing absolutely dry conditions. On June 28, Harris County's average KBDI was 681.

According to background information provided in the agenda, the KBDI on Aug. 19 was 506 and predicted to drop with weekend rainfall.