Harris County Commissioners propose tax cuts at cost of Harris Health System funding

Harris County Commissioners propose tax cuts at cost of Harris Health System funding

Houston resident Marissa Hanson spoke on keeping tax rates low during the Harris County Commissioners Court public hearing on Sept. 21. (Emily Lincke/Community Impact Newspaper)

On average, Harris County homeowners may see lower tax rates in the next year, but it will come at the cost of $17 million in funding for the county’s hospital district, according to Harris County Administrator David Berry.

At a Sept. 21 public hearing, Harris County Commissioners voted unanimously to propose a $0.58135 overall total county tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, down from the county’s overall fiscal year 2020-21 rate of $0.59920.

However, the proposed total tax rate for the Harris County Hospital District, or Harris Health System, is $0.16221. This rate would provide less funding for the hospital district in the upcoming fiscal year than commissioners budgeted for earlier this year, Berry said.

“You’re deep in hell to be poor in terms of health care, in Harris County,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said. “Although I know, for homeowners, they will appreciate the [tax reduction] … those people who rent, which unfortunately is far too many here, won’t get this. … For those who are homeless, we have to find that money somewhere. They have tremendous unmet needs.”

While Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey voted against the previously proposed tax rates at the Sept. 14 Commissioners Court meeting, the commissioners accepted the new proposal Sept. 21 as a compromise.

“If you are a homeowner, with a $100,000 home, and last year you paid $599.20, with this proposal … you’ll pay $581.35,” Cagle said. “In other words, your bill will not go up. … You will pay less in your taxes, on average. Some homes will be a little bit different because of where they were in the [appraisal district zone], and some homes will be a little bit less.”

Cutting the tax rates could impede the care the Harris Health System provides for 300,000 county residents annually, Harris Health System President Dr. Esmaeil Porsa said. The system includes two full-service hospitals, 18 community health centers and five school-based clinics, according to the hospital district’s website.

“While [Harris Health System’s hospitals] comprise only 6.6% of all hospital beds in Harris County, we provide over 16% of all Harris County’s Medicaid admissions and more than 21% of all uninsured admissions in Harris County,” Porsa said. “I’m asking for your support for an appropriate tax rate for the hospital district, so that we can continue to meet our ongoing obligations to the residents of Harris County.”

However, not all who spoke at the Sept. 21 public hearing hearing were supportive of higher tax rates.

“It doesn’t really make much sense to me why you want to raise our taxes when we’re in the middle of inflation,” Houston resident Merissa Hansen said. “Where are you getting the numbers that these hospitals need help when they’re firing their own nurses and medical professionals because they refuse to take the [COVID-19] vaccine?”

Another public hearing will be held for locals to discuss all of the proposed tax rates on Sept. 28, the same day as the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting. As of press time Sept. 22, a date had not been set for when commissioners will vote to adopt a set of tax rates, but they must do so before Oct. 15, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

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