After a heated intra-board debate, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted three to two to move forward with a $0.4412 property tax rate.
At the meeting, County Judge Mark Keough and Commissioner James Noack advanced the effective, or “no new-revenue,” rate but it failed. The other three commissioners — Mike Meador, Charlie Riley, and James Metts — voted down the effective rate and approved the new one.
The rate will be finalized during an August 21 special meeting.
If adopted, the rate will raise $12.8 million in new tax revenues, based on 2019 and preliminary 2020 appraisal data. That amounts to a five percent increase, but the county says it will come out lower than the voter-approval threshold of 3.5 percent due to its calculation according to the tax code.
According to the Montgomery County tax assessor, the voter-approval rate for this year is $0.4590, higher than the proposed rate.
If the new rate is approved, a household at the median value, taking into account the 3.1 percent increase in value from 2019 to 2020, for Montgomery County will pay $22 more in property taxes from last year to this.
Last year, the board adopted the effective rate, for the first time ever according to Keough, bringing in 1.3 percent more property tax revenues due to new property that was added to the rolls.
The county has a $5.1 million fund balance carry over from last year, which Keough wants to use as an offset rather than increasing the taxes.
Keough expressed his disagreement with the rate of increase, saying in the meeting, “We have everything we need to show the people we’re on their side, by ensuring there is no new address of monies they have to write.”
“I don’t care how small it is,” he said, referring to the carryover.
Riley rebuked Keough, saying, “We are showing people we’re on their side. We’re taking care of the bond rating which we can’t do with the effective tax rate.”
Last year, two Lubbock County commissioners cashed in on a kind of loophole under similar circumstances.
At the behest of the other commissioners, they skipped the scheduled meeting, triggering a provision in the state code that requires a quorum of four of five members of a commissioners court to be present in order to set a final tax rate. Because only three of five members were present, the county had to adopt the effective rate.
The law is intended to prevent a scenario in which a minority within a body approves a tax increase.
Two Harris County commissioners also utilized this loophole to force the effective rate.
Meador, specifically, expressed concern over the potential for Keough and Noack to do the same.
“We’ve heard a lot of chatter up here today about [the quorum] and I hope and pray nobody on this court is considering doing that. To me it’d be an embarrassment to county government,” he stated.
Keough added, “Nobody has said that they’re not going to show up, but I want to know what the options are.”
He further told The Texan that skipping the meeting is “a nuclear option that I don’t want to use.”
“We can get to where we need to be without sacrificing services or our AAA credit rating, while not raising property taxes, by using the surplus money we have available,” he concluded.
If they do not show, however, the other agenda items, such as the final budget, can be voted on with only three members.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.