Daniel Ramos, executive director of the Harris County Office of Management and Budget, presented the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022-23 during the Aug. 23 meeting of Commissioners Court.

The $2.24 billion operating budget is based on 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 before its 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 Harris County Flood Control District of $0.39511 is 3.7% lower than the 2021 rate of $0.41042, according to Ramos.

“I actually went back and looked,” Ramos said at the meeting. "This tax rate that we [would] adopt on the general fund will be the lowest it’s been since 1993 in Harris County.”

When the county last went through the budgeting process, the OMB prepared a planning budget for FY 2022-23 of $2.154 billion. Increased costs to the county due to inflation and high medical claims led Ramos to propose a budget $86 million larger than the planning budget.

“We are just seeing huge amounts of inflation in all areas of our work across every single department,” Ramos said.

He added that commissioners had approved an additional $22 million in spending, with $11 million going towards the county jail.

The proposed budget allocates $1.43 billion for justice and safety, which accounts for 64% of the budget and is a 10.7% increase from the previous year.

Flood control and Harris Health

The proposed budget for HCFCD is $137.1 million, and Ramos has recommended the voter-approval tax rate to supplement the district’s budget. According to Tina Petersen, executive director of the HCFCD, the district has identified a 7% increase in the budget due to inflation.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health System, said the hospital district is recommending the voter-approval rate of $0.19078 per $100 of assessed value, up from $0.16221 for the previous year. The district is facing a $45 million shortfall in its operating budget, with a $150 million deficit projected for the next fiscal year.

“Harris Health System is much more than the safety net hospital providing care to the indigent,” Porsa said. “Our impact in Harris County is vast and steep. Nobody wants us ... to be in a situation where we have to either desert care or cut services.”

Next steps

Commissioners did not take action on the budget during their meeting, but Ramos outlined two paths forward for the court to approve the tax rate and the budget, which would go into effect Oct. 1.

The quickest route would see commissioners agreeing on a tax rate early enough to host a public hearing for the tax rate Sept. 6. A public hearing on the budget would then occur Sept. 13, after which both the tax rate and the budget would be adopted.

If commissioners did not agree to a tax rate before Sept. 6, hearings for both the tax rate and the budget would occur on Sept. 13 and would be adopted on Sept. 19 or 20. Sept. 30 is the latest date by which the county could adopt the budget, according to Ramos.