Flooding, proposed tax hike discussed at Commissioners Court

HOUSTON – Harris County Commissioners Court held its first meeting since Tropical Storm Imelda hit the area less than a week ago.

On Tuesday, flooding, along with a proposed tax hike, were the two hot topics of the day inside the court. 

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said according to county engineers, so far, they have counted 741 homes that flooded in the unincorporated areas of Harris County. This doesn’t include the city of Houston or other parts of the area that saw significant flooding. 

“As of yesterday, we’ve got our debris pickup crews in Harris County. So if you live in unincorporated Harris County, watch out, we’ll be coming for your debris,” Hidalgo said.

On Monday, she -- along with Mayor Sylvester Turner and Mattress Mack -- launched an Imelda Assistance Fund to help collect donations and sign up volunteers to help those impacted by the storm.  According to the website, The Greater Houston Community Foundation is in partnership with the local governments. The organization administered the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund for the city and county in 2017.   

Hidalgo said in terms of flood insurance claims, the county has received information from the state that there have been 2,092 claims filed so far in Harris county with the national flood insurance program. 

“That also gives us an idea of how many homes flooded and gives us a number to the federal government, we’re still waiting to hear back from them on whether the president will announce a disaster declaration to our region and send us additional aide,” Hidalgo said. 

Tax proposal

Many people showed up to the Commissioners Court to speak about the proposed tax hike that commissioners will take a vote on Oct. 8. 

Court began at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, but the agenda focused on capital improvement projects in the beginning. It wasn’t until after 2 p.m. that the second of three hearings took place for taxpayers to express their concerns over the proposed tax increase. 

Some said they’re for an increase, while others stated they were not and some argued it should be up to the voters. 

The three Democrats on the dais, Hidalgo, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Commissioner Adrian Garcia said the money is needed to help with county services and control projects. Hidalgo said this is needed after state lawmakers passed a revenue cap.

What is the proposal? 

The current rate is about 63 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The proposed increase would make the new rate about 65 cents.

How much would it affect Harris County homeowners?

The average Harris County homeowner would see their property tax bill go up approximately $38, according to Ellis.

What's the argument against it?

The two Republicans on the County Commission said the hike is unfair to taxpayers, many of whom are already struggling with higher property tax bills after Hurricane Harvey.

Commissioner Jack Cagle said the proposed property tax hike is a cover for wasteful spending on the part of the Democrats on the commission. 

"We've had a reserve, we've blown it and now they want to increase the taxes on the taxpayers hit with Harvey to say we want another reserve," Cagle told Channel 2 News. 

To illustrate the feedback he’s received from his constituents, Cagle used a blue box labeled “for” and a red box labeled “against” to show the number of comments he’s received. He held a stack of red letters that he said reflected how most of his constituents feel about the proposed tax hike, they don’t want it, while he held less than two blue papers.  

Cagle is against the proposal and said he and fellow Republican Commissioner Steve Radack could use a little-known loophole in state law to block the measure. 

State law requires a quorum of four instead of the regular three when it comes to votes on tax rates. If the Republicans don't show up, the vote could not take place. 

Cagle wouldn't disclose whether he would be at the Oct. 8 meeting, but Radack said it was on his calendar and he planned to be there. 

When can the public voice their opinions to commissioners?

The third and final public hearing will take place Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 10 a.m. during the regularly scheduled Harris County Commissioners Court meeting. The tax hike will be voted on at that meeting.