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. When you consider property appraisals will go up, the overall increase taxpayers will feel is likely closer to 12 percent more than they paid last year.
The vote for the increase broke along party lines, 3-2. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia voted for it, while Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle voted against. Since the makeup of the court shifted during the last election, most controversial votes in Commissioners Court have broken along these lines.
This initial vote signaled their intent to increase the rate and called for 3 property tax hearings for the public, but it foreshadowed how the ultimate vote will go on October 8, unless our Commissioners take a bold step.
Groups have been organizing to show up and testify at the hearings, as they should. Citizen engagement is the core to ensuring a responsive local government. But in this instance, that won’t change much.
In recent months dozens have showed up to testify in favor of new prosecutors in the District Attorney’s office, to oppose a restructuring of countywide flood funding, and to opine on the county’s landmark bail reform deal, to name a few, but each time, regardless of testimony, the court voted along party lines. Similarly to these previous votes, no matter how many testify against the increase, Hidalgo, Ellis, and Garcia are going to vote in favor and Cagle and Radack are going to vote against.
So they should “no show” the vote.
Typically, three Commissioners constitutes a quorum, meaning the court can conduct county business. But, in what seems like an extra measure to protect taxpayers, Texas law requires four commissioners to be present to levy a tax. If they fail to have four in attendance, the effective tax will be automatically adopted.
The effective tax rate is the rate the court could adopt that would not increase taxes on existing county taxpayers. Meaning, you wouldn’t pay more taxes than you did last year, but the county would still collect additional revenue from new development and new people moving into the county.
So, if two commissioners skip the October 8 court meeting, taxpayers will save $222 million, the additional amount that will be brought in from the increase.
It has been done before.
Two commissioners in Lubbock County recently skipped their property tax vote and forced an adoption of the effective tax rate. The Lubbock County Commissioners Court wanted to maintain a higher rate, but two commissioners wanted to see it lowered to the effective rate and save their taxpayers $1.8 million.
“When Conservatives finds themselves as the minority on the county commissioners court, those tools are: no show, no vote,” said Commissioners Seay and Jason Corley in a video released while they were supposed to be in their court meeting.
No amount of testimony will change the outcome of the vote, but what Harris County residents can do is call their county commissioners, especially Commissioners Jack Cagle and Steve Radack, the two lone votes against the increase, and ask them to skip the vote and protect Harris County taxpayers.
The property tax increase hearings will be help at Commissioners Court on September 20, September 24, and October 8, which is also when they are set to vote. Contact information for the Commissioners can be found below.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis – Pct. 1
Commissioner Adrian Garcia – Pct. 2
Commissioner Steve Radack – Pct. 3
Commissioner Jack Cagle – Pct. 4