October 18, 2019
Harris County has been focused on taking a vote on a proposed increase in the property tax rate, but two absent Republican commissioners stopped that from happening when they skipped the meeting. Their absence meant the court didn’t have a quorum, and that the property tax rate would have to be lowered. In Texas, the law requires at least four of the five commissioners to be present if there’s going to be a tax rate increase vote. The rate had to be set by the 11th of October, and because there wasn’t a vote the rate reverted to the effective rate. That’s currently 1.8 cents lower than the rate that was being charged.
The current rate has been in place since 1996, and the vote would have boosted the county’s revenue by eight percent. That’s the maximum increase that’s allowed on a yearly basis, without getting approved by voters. Even though the increase sounds like a lot, it would have resulted in a $38 per year increase, on average, on homeowners’ tax bills. Beginning in January of 2020, city and county property tax revenue will be limited to 2.5 percent growth per year, without a public vote. That ruling passed as Senate Bill 2 during the 2019 session.
Now, though, property taxes will go down for homeowners, and they’ll see savings on their next bills. The biggest problem with that is the county’s budget because 70 to 75 percent of that budget comes from property tax revenue. The rest of the money is from various fees, and those are almost never raised. Other counties in the area are raising their property tax to help their budgets, and with the Harris County property tax rate actually going down now, that county’s budget could be in trouble.
The two commissioners who failed to show up for the meeting did so under the belief that revenue from the property tax increase would not have been used properly, and would have just gone into the general fund. The money allegedly would have been used for flood control and other important measures, but studies into the issue showed that only 5.5 percent of the revenue would have actually been used that way. Rather than vote on an increase they felt would be misused, the two commissioners chose to remain absent and stop the vote from taking place at all.