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.
Coupled with the ever-growing appraisal increases, on a $180,000 home this tax hike would be 12 percent, or $131, according to State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, but those often ignored in this conversation are renters.
Many argue that renters don’t contribute to the property tax system, but there are two things to remember: all costs that go into providing a product or service (an apartment or condo) are passed on to the consumer (renter) to maximize profits and residences that are not occupied by the owners are usually taxed at higher rates than those that are owner-occupied.
For instance, landlords and renters don’t get to take advantage of tax exemptions like homestead, over 65, disabled, or veterans. Meaning they see some of the highest appraisal increases across the board.
Since renters are often those who cannot yet afford to buy a house, the increase by Harris County Commissioners Court is especially burdensome on them because they will see increased rental rates as a result.
There are three public hearings ahead of an October 8 vote to ratify the new rate. The only option on the table to stop the increase is having two commissioners skip the meeting.
Typically, it takes a simple quorum, or a majority in attendance, to conduct a Commissioners Court meeting, but according Texas Local Government Code, for a meeting to increase taxes there must be at least 4 members of the court present.
This means that if the two “no” votes on the tax hike, Commissioners Jack Cagle and Steve Radack were to skip the meeting on October 8, the court would be prohibited from adopting the increased tax rate.