To move along the city's Harvey relief efforts, Mayor Sylvester Turner is seeking an 8.9 percent hike in property taxes for one year.
The move would raise the tax rate from 58.64 cents per $100 to 63.87 cents per $100, resulting in an increase of about $118 in property taxes next year for the average Houston homeowner, as the Houston Chronicle reported. This would generate an extra $113 million for the city.
The nearly 9 percent tax hike is in spite of the city's revenue cap, which limits the amount of property taxes the city can collect from homeowners — a political hot button that has been largely up for debate this year.
But then came Hurricane Harvey.
Debris collection alone is expected to cost $200 million, and FEMA will cover 90 percent of the cost. The City of Houston already voted to allot $20 million to recovery from its rainy day fund, exhausting the available funds.
Mayor Turner had faced some criticism after toying with the idea, before Harvey, to put an initiative on the ballot that would ask homeowners to remove the revenue cap in order to increase property taxes. And during the legislative sessions this year, bills addressing property tax reform, in which voters would have to approve tax hikes greater than 4 percent instead of 8 percent, failed despite being Governor Greg Abbott's top priority.
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But the federal disaster declaration changes the rules: Turner is allowed to break the revenue cap and propose the large tax hike as an emergency measure. It would take effect in January 2018 and continue for one year. Before passing the tax increase, the city is required to hold three public hearings, which, if City Council agrees to put the proposal in motion Wednesday, would be held September 26 at 6 p.m., October 3 at 6 p.m. and October 11 at 9 a.m.
As we reported just after Harvey, Turner very clearly warned everyone that this tax hike was coming, saying at a press conference, "A lot of people don’t want to pay. But sooner or later, you’re gonna pay. You’re gonna pay the piper. You can’t hold tight to your purse strings, and then when these floods come and you’re impacted, then everybody is so concerned. Where will people be in a month, two months right now; will they have the same commitment and sensitivity to the people flooding? Only time will tell."
City Council is meeting at noon Wednesday instead of 9 a.m. for its regular meeting — and debate on this issue is expected to be contentious.