Harris County commissioners voted 3-2 to begin community engagement for a potential $1.2 billion bond issue in November at their July 19 court meeting.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle were opposed. Ramsey stated he would not be voting in favor of a bond issue due to the short window between adoption of the bond and the November election.
“I’m perfectly prepared to have a conversation about a bond issue in 2023, but not 2022,” Ramsey said. “I’ve said that in so many words between when this first came up to now.”
For his part, Cagle said he would use the next two weeks before the Aug. 2 court meeting to consider the bond issue, but made no promises as to how he would vote.
The commissioners spent close to 90 minutes debating the merits of holding a bond election this year instead of next year, to what degree of specificity programs should be presented to the public and the percentage of the bond funds allocated to each precinct.
In support of a bond issue in 2022, County Administrator David Berry said voter turnout would be three times higher in November 2022 than November 2023 based on comparable elections. He added that current county roads and parks projects would experience delays if the election is postponed.
Berry also presented an updated budget breakdown to the commissioners for a $1.2 billion bond, up from the $1 billion plan from the court’s previous meeting.
The new plan included $200 million for road and drainage partnerships with local entities such as small cities, the city of Houston and municipal utility districts. A $1.2 billion bond would raise property taxes by $32 a year for the average homeowner, while a $1 billion bond would raise them by $27.
With either bond size, Berry emphasized the overall tax rate for residents should continue to decline based on the county’s finances.
“We need to be careful when we talk about any tax increase. We’re paying off a lot of debt. This bond package does not mean rates are going to go up; it just means our debt service rates won’t decline as quickly,” Berry said.
In the next two weeks, Berry said he will refine the scope of work of the community engagement plan with firms the county has on contract before a special meeting between Aug.12-22, at which point commissioners could vote to put the bond on the ballot and begin discussions with consulting firms.