County passes $2.4 billion budget

Tax Rate reduced for 5th year in row

HARRIS COUNTY – County commissioners last week voted for a tax rate decrease for the fifth year in a row, as well as a $2.4 billion budget for 2024. The vote was unanimous, and taken without the rancor that has accompanied previous budget measures.

Commissioners Court approved an overall tax rate of 53.03 cents per $100 of assessed value. While that’s down from 53.06 cents last year, taxpayers could still end up with a higher bill depending on increases in their appraised property values.

Commissioners also approved the county’s operating budget for the upcoming year. Nearly two-thirds of the $2.4 billion budget is dedicated to justice and safety, a spending plan that includes the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office and a large court system.

The allocation reflects that public safety “continues to be a top priority,” according to Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

Garcia also said in a statement the county was able to decrease the tax rate without “sacrificing our ability to rebuild our aging infrastructure, create a workforce for jobs today and into the future, and combat the climate crisis with clean energy.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a Democrat, said the budget makes the most of limited resources.

“It represents a set of investments in a more just legal system, expanded access to health care, housing, and jobs, and the advancement of fair and free elections,” Ellis said in a statement.

Ellis is temporarily presiding over Commissioners Court while County Judge Lina Hidalgo is on an extended medical leave. Hidalgo is expected to return to work full time on Oct. 2.

The meeting was notably amiable, particularly compared to last year’s partisan budget showdown over allegations that the Democrat-controlled court was “defunding” law enforcement.

On Tuesday, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, the lone Republican on the court, struck a conciliatory tone, praising the budget office, law enforcement allocations and even his colleagues on the court.

“I want credit where credit is due,” Ramsey said. “We focused on what was important to the people of Harris County.”

Garcia and Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones said they appreciated Ramsey’s leadership.

Ellis held back from complimenting Ramsey, joking that he wasn’t sure whether praise from him “would help you or not.”

Ramsey has indicated he would support a tax rate increase for the Harris County Flood Control District next year.

“The number of bayous and drainage ditches and culverts that we have to maintain in the county, that’s not sustainable in terms of how much we currently fund it,” Ramsey said.

The state limits how much Commissioners Court can increase tax rates without seeking voter approval. Ramsey said he would like to ask voters for a substantial increase.

“What I’m advocating is that we increase the amount that flood control gets every year much more,” Ramsey said.

Ellis took a shot at those state-imposed limits on Tuesday. While he called the newly approved budget a “step in the right direction,” he said “progress was made despite Austin politicians slashing vital services by restricting our ability to fund county government adequately.”