Harris County Democrats propose increased property tax rates to support Rainy Day Fund, Harris Health System

Harris County Commissioners Court was slated to vote on a property tax rate hike Oct. 8.

Harris County Commissioners Court was slated to vote on a property tax rate hike Oct. 8.

Harris County homeowners may see their property tax rates increase by as much as 3.59% following a push by Democrats on the Harris County Commissioners Court to propose rollback tax rates for fiscal year 2019-20.

The court discussed three different tax rate options during its regular meeting Sept. 10, including Option 1, based on the 2019 effective tax rate, Option 2, based on the same total tax rate as FY 2018-19, and Option 3, based on 2019 rollback tax rates.

In FY 2018-19, Harris County levied four separate tax rates for a total combined property tax rate of $0.62998 per $100 valuation. The total combined rate included the following tax rates: Harris County at $0.41858, the Harris County Flood Control District at $0.02877, the Port of Houston Authority at $0.01155 and the Hospital District, or Harris Health System, at $0.17108.

Precinct 3 and 4 commissioners Steve Raddack and Jack Cagle—the court Republicans—voted for Option 1, which would lower the total combined tax rate from $0.62998 per $100 valuation in FY 2018-19 to $0.61170 per $100 valuation. Cagle amended the option to maintain the same Flood Control District tax rate levied in FY 2018-19 while asserting that post-Hurricane Harvey constituents deserved property tax relief.

“The year after Harvey … We did not know whether Harvey would cause us to go into an economic tailspin, and we had to render services … so I bit the bullet … and did not vote for property tax relief,” Cagle said. “But what has occurred, by the grace of God, is that [our economy has] done very well, and I think now is the time… to provide some property tax relief to our citizens who have been impacted by Harvey in this post-Harvey world.”

However, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 and 2 commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia—the court Democrats—voted for Option 3, which would increase the total combined tax rate from $0.62998 per $100 valuation in FY 2018-19 to $0.65260 per $100 valuation—a $0.02262 increase.

Hidalgo said with the 86th Texas Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 2 in June, the county will be limited in the amount of property tax revenue in can collect beginning in 2020.

“As the county continues to grow and there are more homes, those people need more services, more roads, more flood control, more access to health care … And the legislature … is going to limit our ability to get revenue from them,” Hidalgo said. “It’s certainly my concern that as we get cut at the knees, the county will be in a difficult position to provide services, especially in the event of an economic downturn or a natural disaster.”

Garcia and Ellis added Option 3 would provide additional funding needed to support the county’s Economic Stabilization Fund—or Rainy Day Fund—which could be beneficial in the event of an economic downturn or another natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey, as well as to provide funding for the county’s overburdened Harris Health System.

According to Garcia, in FY 2018-19, the Harris Health System delivered nearly 5,500 babies, performed 22,500 surgical procedures, served almost 2 million outpatients and received between 160,000-170,000 emergency room visits.

“I am aware of the issues going on with the hospital district right now—we all are,” Ellis said. “Health care is such a tremendous issue—it’s the biggest area of our spending. I think we ought to do as much for the hospital district as we can.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, the vote for Option 1—the tax rate decrease—failed 2-3, and the vote for Option 3—the tax rate increase—passed 3-2.

Although the rate increase does not require voter approval, the county will host three public hearings on the rate prior to adoption Oct. 8. Those public hearings will be held Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. and during regularly scheduled commissioners court meetings Sept. 24 and Oct. 8, which both begin at 10 a.m. The public hearings will be held in the Harris County Commissioners Court courtroom, located at 1001 Preston Street Ste. 934, Houston.
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