Harris Co. commissioners eyeing property tax rates

Harris County leaders discussed this week whether to raise or lower property taxes.

During a commissioner's court meeting on Thursday, officials eyed the current rates, weighing their options.

The COVID-19 pandemic raises the discussion of what falls under a disaster declaration when it comes to property taxes.

David Berry, incoming executive director of the Budget Management Department for Harris County, explained why they have leeway.

"There's an exemption in the statute that allows you to raise everything at present without an election if there's a declared disaster," Berry explained during the meeting. "And so, a choice in front of you, if you want to go that route, would be to take the position that COVID is a declared disaster, which would increase the threshold that you can raise rates without going through an election."

Berry continued, "The governor has come out, as many of you may read, and said he doesn't agree with that."

Carol Churchill with China Garden Restaurant, which has been owned by her family for 51 years, spoke to commissioners about not raising the tax rate, because they're only operating at 30% capacity right now.

"We're not making enough money to pay extra property taxes," Churchill told them, adding that the restaurant hasn't been able to open for lunch since there haven't been many people downtown.

"Right now, we're barely hanging on... and raising the property taxes would just put us under," she said. "Fifty-one years of my family's dedication to our business, it would be really sad to go down that way."

Instead of taking action on the item Thursday, commissioners decided to wait until the end of the month when the Harris County Appraisal District will provide them with a certified roll.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia reassured property owners, though, saying, "There is zero chance that during a pandemic and an economic crisis an 8% tax increase would be proposed or passed."

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