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Despite the extension of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s mental health leave of absence, Commissioners Court is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a new budget and tax rate ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

County budget officials have proposed a general fund operating budget of $2.4 billion — an increase from last year’s $2.13 billion spending plan — and a Harris County Flood Control District operating budget of $128 million.

Budget officials have proposed a property tax rate of 53.03 cents per $100 of assessed value, slightly lower than last year’s rate of 53.06 cents. If passed, Harris County residents would see a sixth consecutive year of tax rate decreases, according to budget documents.

Due to rising property values and new development, however, the proposed tax rate is projected to bring in $300 million more in fiscal 2024 than the current fiscal year.

Under the new rate, the owner of a $280,000 home with a standard 20 percent homestead exemption would pay about 67 cents less than this year, if their home value remained the same.

Even with an increase in estimated tax revenue, county budget officials offer a cautious look at the year ahead.

“State-mandated revenue caps combined with state mandated minimum spending on law enforcement, growing healthcare costs, inflation, a backlogged justice system resulting in a jail population exceeding capacity and past underinvestment in core business operations have created a troubling baseline picture for the next fiscal year,” the budget reads.

Included in the proposed budget is the largest cost of living adjustment for civilian employees in the last 5 years, a $21.4 million expansion of the public defender’s office and a 14 percent increase in funding for individual commissioners’ offices.

Also included in the proposal is the addition of three new district criminal courts to help reduce the county’s court backlog, a $15.2 million increase in the district attorney’s office budget and an $80 million increase for the sheriff’s office. Each constable’s office also would see an increase under the current budget proposal.

The civilian employee cost of living adjustment, proposed at 7 percent, is accompanied by a 4 percent adjustment for deputies. The increases, which would be paid throughout the next fiscal year, are intended to help restore salary boosts lost last year after the county defaulted to its no-new-revenue tax rate.

The cost-of-living adjustment was one of three items that had some level of consensus among the four commissioners present at last week’s special commissioners’ court meeting. The other two were increases to each precinct’s budget and a raise for detention officers in the jail system.

“We need to make sure we’re compensating people fairly,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones said. The raise for detention officers would be an additional 5 percent on top of the 7 percent cost of living adjustment.

While there was some agreement between commissioners on increasing precinct budgets during last Tuesday’s meeting, the other three commissioners balked at Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey’s goal of getting the budgets up to $50 million each. Thanks to a friendly amendment from Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, each precinct will receive just north of $42 million. Ramsey pushed for the increased money for flexibility to address many of the concerns he said he has heard from residents in his precinct, including road maintenance, community centers, and parks.

Other unanimity from commissioners included increased juror pay, pollution control efforts, and behavioral health positions with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. At Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ behest, the court opted to expand the Holistic Assistance Response Team to one more district.

Garcia was able to get funding for the GradCafe program that connects Houstonians with resources for applying to universities and obtaining financial aid.

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    Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and former Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle skipped six meetings last year to prevent the court from setting a tax rate they said was too high. Without a quorum, the county was forced by state law to adopt a no-new-revenue tax rate that would generate the same proceeds as the previous year.

    Hidalgo will not attend Tuesday’s meeting, a spokesperson told Abdelraoufsinno Thursday. Her absence means that if Ramsey skips the meeting, the court will be unable to pass its proposed property tax rate because state law requires at least four of the court’s five members to be present to set a tax rate.

    Ellis recognized the potential issue of Ramsey skipping, offering to adjust some of his budget priorities to match Ramsey’s hope for a higher precinct budget to ensure Ramsey would attend the vote. Ramsey responded that he had not said he would not attend the vote without the higher precinct budget.

    Any delay caused by a potential Ramsey absence likely would be short-lived, as the deadline for setting the tax rate is the end of October, weeks after Hidalgo’s expected return.

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    Tim Carlin is the Abdelraoufsinno's civic engagement reporter. An Ohio native, Tim comes to Houston after spending a year in Greenville, South Carolina, covering Greenville County government for The Greenville...

    Akhil Ganesh is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for the Abdelraoufsinno. He was previously a local government watchdog reporter in Staunton, Virginia, where he focused on providing community-centric...