Since September 13, Commissioners Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) and Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) have boycotted meetings, preventing the four-person quorum required by Texas law to enact a property tax increase that would capture an additional $256 million in new revenue from residents.
Without the quorum to approve a new rate, by law the county must revert to the “no-new-revenue” rate which prevents taxpayers from paying more than last year. This would still bring in up to $72 million in additional revenue due to new properties added to the tax rolls.
In the weeks leading up to the September 13 meeting, Ramsey signaled he would be willing to approve a tax increase if the court’s Democrats would agree to hire 200 more patrol officers, but Hidalgo demurred along with Commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 3) and Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2).
Both Ramsey and Cagle have offered compromise options over the past few weeks, but Garcia has insisted the two need to attend commissioners court meetings to discuss. Then, last Friday, Garcia announced his own compromise proposal, and Hidalgo posted notice of a special meeting Monday afternoon.
“The goal for Monday’s meeting is for the members of Court to agree on a specific tax rate decrease so that we can post a meeting for a later date in which we vote to actually adopt the proposed tax rate decrease,” Hidalgo said in a statement.
In the posting for the meeting, however, the two agenda items regarding the budget and tax rate as written call for “discussion and possible action,” which would allow a vote to adopt a tax rate to take place at the meeting.
Following Hidalgo and Garcia’s announcements, Cagle took to social media to “welcome” what he characterized as a “last-minute” attempt to resolve differences, but requested a discussion-only meeting.
“If [Garcia] is truly serious about wanting to reach an agreement, he will join me in calling on the county judge to call a special ‘discussion only’ session of Commissioners Court at which the full court can discuss the merits of his and my proposals,” wrote Cagle.
“Absent his commitment to do so, this offer would appear to be merely lipstick on a pig and a continuation of his effort to increase county spending on the backs of the taxpayers.”
Although Ramsey initially signaled he would attend, on Saturday he too announced that he would not be at Monday’s meeting due to the “vagueness around the ‘possible action.’”
“Commissioner Garcia stated his proposal from yesterday was his final offer. I am rejecting his offer and rescinding mine,” said Ramsey in a statement. “I don’t trust Judge Hidalgo or Commissioners Garcia and Ellis because their actions speak louder than words.”
Ramsey cited efforts by Garcia and his fellow Democrats to retaliate against Precinct 3 and 4 residents by blocking projects for those areas, which include road repairs, sewer systems, and a flood and drainage master plan for Precinct 4.
Additionally, Ramsey noted that the regularly scheduled meeting for Tuesday, October 18 still only includes consideration of the original tax rate and budget but does not include Garcia’s compromise proposal.
Finally, Ramsey referenced the surprise redistricting map Ellis introduced at the last minute during a meeting in October 2021 that commissioners quickly approved in a 3 to 2 vote without allowing any community input.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), a former Harris County tax assessor-collector, told The Texan, “There is no better deal for Harris County taxpayers than the no new revenue rate as laid out in Senate Bill 2.”
“That is the result of the proactive stance that Radack and Cagle undertook in 2019, and that Ramsey and Cagle are taking in 2022, and that commissioners are taking in Brazos County too.”
When commissioners court met to approve a $1.2 billion bond referendum on August 18, Ellis cut off Ramsey as he asked questions about the county’s current debt and interest rates. The court’s Democrats did not permit Cagle to ask any questions about the bond order or terms before approving the bond package in a 3 to 2 vote.
During the last regular meeting last week, hundreds of residents and law enforcement officers waited to address commissioners court and the district attorney had planned to discuss funding for prosecutors and constables. But Hidalgo adjourned the meeting early, stating her doctor had recommended more rest after her recent illness.
Another meeting of commissioners court is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but the only tax rate on the agenda is the one originally proposed by the court’s Democrats in early September.
Commissioners must approve a tax rate by October 28.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.