Harris County commissioners propose lower tax rates with split vote

Harris County commissioners propose lower tax rates with split vote

At the Sept. 14 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, County Administrator David Berry, top left, presents proposed tax rates to commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, Judge Lina Hidalgo, and commissioners Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis. (Emily Lincke/Community Impact Newspaper)

In a split 3-2 vote, the Harris County Commissioners Court proposed a decrease in the county’s overall property tax rate for fiscal year 2021-22 at the Sept. 14 court meeting.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia initially proposed an overall property tax rate of $0.58585 per $100 valuation. This proposed rate would be a 2.2% drop from the county’s fiscal year 2020-21 rate of $0.59920, which would make the upcoming fiscal year the third year the court has decreased the county’s overall tax rate, according to a press release from Garcia’s office.

The proposed overall property tax rate includes individual tax rates for Harris County, the Harris County Flood Control District, the Harris Health System and the Port of Houston Authority.

However, while the proposed tax rate is lower than the FY 2020-21 rate, tax payers may actually end up paying more since the values of homes statewide increased this year, according to County Administrator David Berry.

“In terms of our taxable value, the overall taxable value that we received from the appraisal district is about 3% higher than last year’s,” Berry said. “The great majority of that is from new construction.”

After hearing the proposed rates, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle opted to propose an alternate set of rates, reducing the proposed maintenance and operations amounts—which fund operations costs of the entities—for all entities, except for the HCFCD.

“I’m fully comfortable with the proposed rate for flood control,” Cagle said. “I’m not comfortable with anything other than no new revenue for the general fund.”

Cagle’s proposed total rates are lower than Garcia’s proposed rates, but his proposed debt service rates are the same. Cagle’s overall Harris County tax rate is $0.57504 per $100 valuation. For this tax rate, Cagle proposed a $0.33280 maintenance and operations rate while keeping the debt service rate at Garcia’s proposed $0.04193.

“That would allow us to continue to pay our debt service and would also make it to where we could perhaps even expand our bond issues that we have outstanding that we’ve not yet issued for infrastructure,” Cagle said.

The proposals were voted on in one motion, with Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey dissenting.

While Cagle’s proposed lower rates would provide relief to taxpayers, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said it would cut needed funding for vital county programs.

“Everybody wins when you reduce taxes. … It’s the best way to go, everybody loves it. We get, you know, clapping and the public gets decreased tax burden,” Hidalgo said. “As the population grows and needs grow, when we cut the baseline, we’re gonna be leaving less revenue per capita. And already we’re short on services. … We know that we’re woefully inadequate on things from pollution control to public health.”

Every year since 2019, the county’s overall property tax rate has decreased, with the rate hitting $0.61170 in 2019 after the rate remained at $0.62998 from 2010-18, according to a press release from Garcia’s office.

A public hearing will be held at 1 p.m. on Sept. 21, during which the public can comment on the proposed tax rates. Then, at 10 a.m. on Sept. 28, commissioners will vote whether to approve one of the proposed tax rates.

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