Harris County Department of Education won't raise tax rate

October 18, 2011 4:30:59 PM PDT
A proposal to increase a Harris County property tax by just a few pennies failed on Tuesday but those involved say the debate was about more than just money.

Supporters, including the superintendent for the Harris County Department of Education, say property value in the county has declined overall, so the small tax rate increase was needed to maintain their education programs. But tax opponents say any amount, even if it's pocket change, would have been too much.

Whenever you talk about homes and their property taxes, emotions run high. At the Harris County Department of Education, board member Jim Henley was angry.

"I want to give a quality of education to our students, and I want to go against the grain of all that's been happening," Henley said.

Henley was among the board members who supported a small tax rate increase from the current rate of .006581 to .006804 per hundred-dollar valuation. The average homeowner in Harris County would pay around 36 cents more per year. But opponents showed up in force before Tuesday's vote and made their opinions clear.

"I'm really, really puzzled as to why you guys are asking for more money, when you know there is a lot of pain out there, a lot of hurting by a lot of unemployed people," anti-tax advocate JoAnn McCracken said.

Harris County Department of Education runs several schools for the county's at-risk kids, as well as pre-K and adult education programs. Because property values have decreased in parts of Harris County, supporters say raising the tax rate even a little would at least keep the schools funded at current levels.

"What your tax money does is leverages dollars for school districts. That's why the Harris County Department of Education is a viable entity today," board president Angie Chestnut said.

Anti-tax advocate Barry Klein was determined to win this battle. After several speakers, and an hour of debate, the board voted 4-3 to not change the tax rate. Klein admits the win was largely symbolic, but he'll take it.

"It's not a lot of money in the big picture, but symbolically it's very important," he said.

The average Harris County homeowner pays only about $10-$12 in education department taxes a year. But Klein says Tuesday's win is encouragement for him to take his anti-tax battle to other entities.

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