First of 3 public hearings held in regard to proposed tax hike

HOUSTON – People were heated at the first of three public hearing at city hall Monday night with regard to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposed tax hike.

Earlier this month, the mayor said the city needs a 8.9 percent property tax hike for one year to help pay for debris removal and to fix buildings and roads due to Tropical Storm Harvey. He then slashed the initial proposed amount in half after he got word the federal government would partially reimburse the city for Harvey relief efforts.

“This was an emergency, I did not call up the storm. Somebody has to pick up the tab,” said Turner during Monday’s public hearing.

Turner said if the state were to dip into its $10 billion Rainy Day Fund, he wouldn’t have to propose the property tax hike which would generate about $50 million.

The proposed temporary tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $21.47 for one year. The homeowner of a $175,000 home would pay $37.58 for the year and $48.36 for the owner of a $225,000 home.

Republican Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who is from Houston, was the first to speak at the public hearing. He said he’s against the increased tax and said the city would be able to fill the gap in the short term because property tax collections will be up next year.

Council members pressed Bettencourt, asking for his support to ask lawmakers in Austin to use $50 million from the reserves.

"We need the money, Paul, we need the money, without raising taxes,” said Council Member Dwight Boykins. “You do that and I'll make a deal, I will not support the mayor in raising taxes if you can get us some rainy day money to cover this gap.”

Boykins asked if he had Sen. Bettencourt’s word, the senator said, “No” for the following reasons. He said that the state is already asking for a third reservoir, money to refurbish the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs along with money for a “coastal spine” to keep the coast protected from storm surges.

Bettencourt echoed his earlier argument that because the average home went up 5 percent in value, people will pay more the money the city needs could come from there.

After an hour of council members and the senator going back and forth, people who signed up to speak had their voices heard.

The first person was Alicia Nuzzie, who said she was in favor of the proposed emergency tax.

"I really wish we didn't have to do this tax rate increase, however, there has been no help from the rainy day fund, I have to say as a home owner I'm here to support for the one-year tax hike,” said Nuzzie, who lives in the Oak Forest neighborhood.

Those who are against the tax are concerned it won’t remain temporary and instead become permanent. Others who are against the tax said they are strapped for cash.

“You are taxing the people who voted you into office and we’re mad,” said one neighbor, who received cheers from others inside the chambers.

The second public hearing is planned for Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. and the third is scheduled for Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. Council is expected to take a vote on Oct. 18.



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