Houston City Council Reviews Mayor’s Property Tax Increase Proposal

As you may recall, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proposed a temporary 9% property tax increase to help the Harris County cover the mammoth expenses incured by Hurricane Harvey. As we reported on September 10th:

While many Houston residents are still cleaning up the mud, mold, and debris from their flood damaged homes, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has proposed a 9% property tax increase. According to ABC 13, “The current rate of 58.6 cents per $100 valuation would go up to 63.8 cents for 12 months.”

So, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $1,276 in property taxes, as opposed to $1,172, a $104 difference. In a time when many Houstonians are going into debt trying to make their homes livable again, many feel this adds insult to injury.

Previously, we mistakenly reported that Houston City Council would vote on the Mayor’s proposal on Wednesday, September 12. However, September 12 was the date that Mayor Turner would propose the increase to the Council. No vote, as yet, has been held. The Council will now hold three public hearings in the City Hall Council Chambers:

  1. Monday, September 25,  6:00 PM, 901 Bagby
  2. Monday, October 2, 6:00 PM, 901 Bagby
  3. Wednesday, October 11, 9:00am at 901 Bagby

If approved, the property tax increase would bring the City $110 million.

However, at least one councilman is none to impressed with the Mayor’s plan. The following is a very informative post by Houston City Council Member Mike Knox, At-Large 1:

During today’s Public Session at City Council, the Mayor’s proposal to temporarily increase the property tax rate was discussed. Following this discussion I am not in favor of supporting the Mayor’s plan.

Here are my concerns. We will start with the facts.

Tropical Storm Harvey created an unprecedented degree of damage in the Houston area.

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The mayor says we need immediate funds to get the debris collected and removed, to replace city vehicles destroyed, to repair city buildings damaged, and to fix damaged roadways. His position is we cannot wait for FEMA to begin this process so we must raise the property tax rate, using the emergency clause contained in it.

Ok. I can agree with all of these facts. Now here is the problem.

If the tax rate is increased the money it generates will not be available until way after January or February of next year. You see, the tax rate has to be approved by council, which cannot be accomplished until October 18th.

The tax rate notification must then be forwarded to the County Tax Assessor/Collector who must then send out the tax bills and then we have to wait for the owners to send in their tax payments.

The maximum we expect from this tax increase is 113 million dollars more than we would get without the temporary tax increase.

There is nothing quick about this process.

There is, however, a better and much faster way.

The city holds back 7.5% of its budget in the ready fund balance for emergencies. In our current budget that amounts to approximately 150 million dollars. In addition, we have approximately 50 million dollars over that amount for a total of around 200 million dollars available today to spend on the “emergency” items. A figure substantially larger than the amount we would receive from the increased tax.

The mayor could place this request on tomorrow’s agenda and be spending it on debris removal and other items by Friday. Without the need to raise anyone’s tax rate.

It appears to me the Mayor is using everyone’s emotion and desire to quickly recover from the horrible devastation to enact an increased tax rate for this coming year, when he must know the funds could not be available until the Spring of next year.

The discrepancy in the stated nature of the emergency and the necessity for immediate funding, combined with the natural and unavoidable delay in obtaining the funds, gives me significant reason for pause. Especially when a faster and immediately fundable mechanism exists to accomplish the stated goals.

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