GOP commissioners agree to meet on tax rate compromise plan


The two Republican members of the Harris County Commissioners Court said Friday they would attend a special meeting on Monday to discuss a compromise tax rate proposal by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, putting potentially ending a month-long stalemate that delayed budget decisions and became a significant issue in November. races of judges and county commissioners.

Precinct 4 commissioner Jack Cagle said he would attend the meeting if he was sure no vote would take place.

The county attorney’s office confirmed Friday afternoon that the purpose of the meeting was to allow court members to have a discussion and that no final vote on a tax rate could take place.

Precinct 3 commissioner Tom Ramsey announced he would be attending the meeting shortly thereafter.

The two Republican commissioners have skipped the last three Court of Commissioners meetings to prevent the three Democrats on the court from passing a property tax rate. They consider the rate supported by Democrats to be too high at a time when residents face the highest inflation in years amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They also want the county to fund more law enforcement.

Garcia’s proposal, unveiled at a news conference Friday morning, would set the overall property tax rate at 56.3 cents per $100 of assessed value, 1.2 cents lower than the rate originally proposed by the Democratic majority.

The current county aggregate tax rate is 58.1 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Based on the rate of 57.5 cents originally proposed by Democrats, the owner of a $250,000 home with a standard 20% homestead exemption would save about $12 in the first year, assuming the estimated value was unchanged from the previous year.

Under Garcia’s proposal, that owner would pay $36 less.

Garcia’s plan includes an additional $20 million to hire 200 more law enforcement officers, echoing Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey’s call for 200 more law enforcement “boots on field”. It also includes a 2.5% salary increase for law enforcement officers.

“Today I make my last offer to you,” Garcia said. “It ticks all the boxes that each of my colleagues have declared priorities. … If my fellow Republicans continue to refuse to show up for work, it proves once and for all that they had no intention of making a deal.”

State law requires a quorum of at least four members to set the property tax rate. The court has until October 28 to set the tax rate. Failing to reach an agreement would force the county to adopt what’s called the “no new revenue rate,” a levy that generates the same amount of money as the previous year. In Harris County’s case, the no-new-income rate would include an additional $45 million from developed properties added to the tax roll this year.

GOP counter-offers

Cagle initially said he would attend Monday’s meeting as long as he receives confirmation from the county attorney’s office that commissioners will not be allowed to approve a tax rate during the session. The county attorney’s office confirmed with the Chronicle that Monday’s session agenda allows the court to discuss tax rates, but not to set a levy.

Cagle last week laid out a compromise plan and called on County Judge Lina Hidalgo to schedule a special town hall meeting just to debate the proposal. Hidalgo no.

The initial tax rate proposed by the Democratic majority would have generated more than $250 million in additional revenue. Cagle’s proposal last week would cut that by $101 million. Garcia’s plan would reduce it by $67 million.

Before Monday’s session was added to the Friday afternoon schedule, Cagle said Garcia’s proposal “would appear to be just lipstick on a pig and a continuation of his efforts to increase county spending on the back taxpayers”.

Afterwards, he called Garcia’s plan and Monday’s meeting “a step in the right direction.”

“I welcome Commissioner Garcia’s last-minute attempt to resolve our differences regarding his proposed property tax increase,” the commissioner said in an emailed statement.

READ MORE: Lina Hidalgo and Alexandra Mealer debate Harris County’s budget, crime and politics in this video

Ramsey, however, said Garcia’s plan did not specify what he had asked for before. He also objected to the level of taxation proposed by Garcia.

“I made it very clear on September 6 that my proposal was $20 million for 200 patrol officers for sheriffs and constables throughout the county – 100 for sheriffs and 100 constables. The $20 million (from Garcia) for law enforcement is not the same,” Ramsey said in an emailed statement. “We need to limit the amount of taxes collected from residents. Commissioner Garcia wants to take over $180 million in additional tax revenue, and I don’t agree with that.”

Following Monday’s special session announcement, he shared his own counter-offer, which includes $100 million in new taxes instead of Garcia’s suggested $183 million.

“I hope my colleagues will consider this proposal with a view to what is truly best for all of our constituents,” Ramsey said. “I look forward to discussing this at the special meeting on Monday.”

Potential discounts

The main difference between the compromise proposals offered by Cagle and Garcia is $37.9 million in funding for the hospital district; Garcia’s plan calls for more. Although his proposal is still $52.8 million lower than originally proposed, Garcia said it would allow the hospital system to operate fully.

“We can’t leave our hospital system underfunded,” Garcia said. “Make no mistake, it’s not just for those who don’t have health insurance. Even people with the best insurance plans would be hurt if Harris Health didn’t have enough money for day-to-day operations.

The court of commissioners is also due to meet on Tuesday, after this week’s meeting was cut short when Hidalgo had to leave due to illness. The agenda includes 244 items, including a measure to pass an all-inclusive county tax rate of 57.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. This rate could be changed at the table if the members of the court agreed.

Cagle and Ramsey skipped the first meeting on Sept. 13, forcing the majority to pass a $2 billion budget based on no new income tax rates.

Although the “no new revenue rate” is not a reduction in revenue, inflationary pressures would still force the county to cut spending to offset these rising costs, including the possibility of reversing planned raises for employees. of the county and the implementation of hiring freezes, according to County Administrator David Berry.

Garcia’s office previously said the reduced spending plan would require the county to cut public health, community services, flood control and election administration programs. Notably, law enforcement would also suffer a loss. The sheriff’s office would lose more than $40 million in proposed increases, and the Harris County prosecutor’s office would forfeit $5.3 million.

“I commend Commissioner Garcia for bringing forth a proposal that calls Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey to the table to negotiate in good faith so that we can all do the job we were elected to do which is to serve the people of the county. of Harris through the vital services and programs they need and deserve,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said in an emailed statement. “If Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey share the goal of a safer and healthier Harris County, they will put politics aside and show up at the next meeting. If they jump to work again, their absence will speak for itself.

READ MORE: Jack Cagle proposes alternative tax plan for Harris County and defends court absences.

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