News from September 2019
Two interesting news pieces this past week from Apartment List and Forbes. Apartment List regularly tracks average rent in major metro areas and found that rents in the Houston area have increased by about .6 percent from last year meaning Houston’s year-over-year rent growth lags the state average of 1.6 percent and the national average of 1.5 percent.
Houston City Council is considering a 2-cent tax cut at their upcoming September 11 meeting. If passed, this will be the fourth tax cut in five years due to the voter-imposed property tax cap. The rate cut, from 58.8 to 56.8 cents per $100, will add to the roughly $700 million that taxpayers have saved since the tax cap has been in place.
For the first time in two decades, Harris County Commissioners Court is proposing to raise the property tax rate for county residents. The newly proposed rate is 0.65260 per $100 of value, up from last year’s 0.62998. Commissioner Cagle proposed an alternative to keep the effective tax rate, the lowest option on the table, for all entities except the Flood Control District, which would be allowed to maintain the current rate.
Houston City Council voted to lower the property tax rate by 2 cents, or 3.4 percent, but it was more of an administerial task than one of bold action by the council. The 2004 voter-imposed property tax cap prohibits the city from collecting more than the combined rate of population growth and inflation or 4.5%, whichever is lower, so the city was required to reduce the rate as to not collect more than allowed under the law.
In a vote of 3-2, Harris County Commissioners Court voted to advance a hike, the first since 1996, ahead of a new state law coming into effect that would have required them to ask the public for a vote. The Court voted to increase taxes 8 percent across the board, the maximum allowed without voter approval. The legislature’s newly passed property tax reform bill limits increase without voter approval to 3.5 percent, so the court is moving to preempt the law, resulting in a massive hike on property owners and renters.
Lawmakers skipping meetings and critical votes for any reason other than an emergency would typically be unacceptable behavior, but when skipping a vote means saving taxpayers more than $200 million, it becomes the only acceptable option. By now, many Harris County residents have heard that the county Commissioners Court is weighing the option of a tax increase to the tune of 8 percent, or 2.26 cents, tax increase.
A recent poll sparked a conversation about the state of the Houston mayor’s race and the viability of incumbent mayor Sylvester Turner’s challengers, but was there an ethical responsibility to the public to identify that the chief pollster is connected to the Turner administration? The poll was conducted by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. Stein happens to be married to Martha “Marty” Stein, who Turner reappointed as chair of the Houston Planning Commission in 2017.