Harris County tax rate vote stalled for third time as law enforcement appear en masse at commissioners court

Harris County tax rate vote stalled for third time as law enforcement appear en masse at commissioners court

Harris County commissioners were unable to vote to adopt a tax rate for the third consecutive meeting as Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle did not appear at the Oct. 11 meeting.

Ramsey released a video before court reiterating his request for $20 million for 200 additional law enforcement patrol officers for the sheriff’s office and constables’ offices, and Cagle said in an emailed statement that the court’s majority had not responded to his alternate tax rate proposal from last week or scheduled a discussion-only meeting.

“I will make this as clear as I can,” Cagle said. “I will not negotiate with a knife to my throat, and I will stand with Commissioner Tom S. Ramsey to protect Harris County taxpayers from the court majority’s $257 million tax increase.”

While the proposed overall tax rate of $0.57500 per $100 valuation would bring in more revenue than last year’s tax rate, the rate itself is a 1.1% decrease from the previous fiscal year, according to Budget Director Daniel Ramos. If a quorum of four members is not present to vote on the rate by Oct. 28, the county will be forced to adopt the no-new-revenue rate, which caps the county’s property tax-generated revenue to the same amount as the previous year.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo left the meeting early, saying she had recently visited the emergency room and had an order from her doctor to rest, but that another meeting would be posted before the next regular meeting on Oct. 25. As she exited the courtroom, she was booed by members of the audience, many of whom were in law enforcement uniforms.

Law enforcement presence

In a picture tweeted by Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman before the court meeting, over 100 people who appeared to be affiliated with law enforcement posed behind a banner with the words “Stop Defunding.” Herman told Community Impact law enforcement came to court to support District Attorney Kim Ogg and speak on an agenda item she had submitted for the meeting.

“We’re down there because the budget office in Harris County gave us a letter … that basically says that since Cagle and Ramsey are not showing up, that we’re going to be defunded,” Herman said. “We feel like our budgets are being held hostage while [the court’s majority] go[es] through [its] political-whatever-it-is with Cagle and Ramsey. It shouldn’t be this way.”

Ogg and more than 20 officers from various constable precincts had signed up to speak at the meeting but left shortly after Hidalgo did.

In backup documentation to the agenda, Ogg included the letter from the budget office addressed to “elected officials and department heads” that requested a list from departments on “what cuts you will need to make to bring recurring spending items in line with the new budget … [and] reduce department costs and eliminate potential deficits.”

Ramos said in a statement to Community Impact the cuts are compared to the budget originally proposed by his office, which he said increased funding to the constables’ offices.

“That increase has not proceeded because we have not had a quorum to pass a tax rate that would support it,” Ramos said. “I still hope that there will be a compromise on the tax rate which will allow the county to restore the increases to public safety and other county departments.”

Herman said it does not matter to him whether the other commissioners show and that he just needs his budget. But according to the budget office’s letter, the Precinct 4 constable’s office budget would be $2.88 million smaller under the no-new-revenue rate than it would be under the proposed rate opposed by Ramsey and Cagle.

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