Area property owners will have two opportunities next week to make their voices heard about the proposed 2020 tax rates for the City of Houston and Harris County, both are which intend to lower their rates compared to the year before.
The Harris County Commissioners Court last month proposed a property tax decrease between 1.3-2.0 cents per $100 valuation, which would be its first tax rate cut in a decade. A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20, with the commissioners’ final vote on the matter scheduled for Oct. 27.
To sign up to speak at the Oct. 20 commissioners court meeting, which will be held virtually, visit https://appearancerequest.harriscountytx.gov/.
The Houston City Council on Wednesday voted to place its proposed 2020 property tax rate on the voting agenda for the Oct. 21 meeting, along with a public hearing on that day. City finance director Tantri Emo recommended a tax rate of $0.561840 per $100 valuation, down from last year’s rate of $0.567920.
To sign up to speak at city council meetings, contact the city secretary’s office at 832-393-1100 or email@example.com.
Amy Peck, who represents part of the area in District A, was the lone council member to vote against the proposal on Wednesday. While acknowledging that it’s good to propose a lower rate than 2019 because of economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Peck said she thinks the proposed 2020 rate should be even lower.
She said in an email the city is using a provision in the Texas Tax Code that allows a taxing unit “to issue a tax rate that would leave us with about the same amount of tax revenue that was spent the previous year for day-to-day operations plus an extra 3.5 percent,” with the city instead using an 8 percent multiplier because Houston was declared a disaster area on account of the pandemic.
Peck said the city could be using the 3.5 percent multiplier and proposing a 2020 tax rate of $0.544532.
“It’s not like we’re raising taxes,” Peck said. “My argument is just that everyone’s going through a hard time right now. Why not make it the lowest it could possibly be.”
Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin said during Wednesday’s council meeting that using the 8 percent multiplier instead of 3.5 percent equates to an increased annual tax payment of $34 for the average homeowner in the city, and results in much more revenue for the city that it can use to provide services and improve flood mitigation. Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city needs to use the higher tax rate to balance its budget, saying that the lower rate would cause a shortfall of more than $37 million.
“Council member Peck, I respect your position,” Turner said. “I just disagree.”
Council member Abbie Kamin, who represents a large part of the area in District C, voted in favor of placing the proposed tax rate on next week’s council agenda. She pointed out that the city is operating under two revenue caps.
“My focus is to push at the state level to bring Houston under uniformity with all other cities in Texas,” she said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “… We must ensure Houstonians’ taxpayer dollars that they pay to other levels of government, like the county, are being invested back into Houston where they live.”