Harris County commissioners voted 3-2 to begin community engagement for a potential $1.2 billion bond issue in November at their July 19 court meeting.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle were opposed. Ramsey said he would not vote in favor of a bond issue because of the short window between the passage of the bond and the November election.
“I’m fully prepared to have a conversation about a bond issue in 2023, but not in 2022,” Ramsey said. “I’ve said this in so many words from when this happened until now.”
For his part, Cagle said he would use the next two weeks before the Aug. 2 court meeting to consider the bond issue, but made no promises as to how he would vote.
Commissioners spent nearly 90 minutes debating the merits of holding a bond election this year instead of next, the degree of specificity of the programs to present to the public and the percentage of bond funds allocated to each constituency. .
In support of a bond issue in 2022, County Administrator David Berry said voter turnout would be three times higher in November 2022 than in November 2023 based on comparable elections. He added that current road and county park projects will face delays if the election is postponed.
Berry also presented an updated budget breakdown to the commissioners for a $1.2 billion bond, up from the $1 billion plan from the court’s previous meeting.
The new plan included $200 million for road and drainage partnerships with local entities such as small towns, the city of Houston and municipal utility districts. A $1.2 billion bond would raise property taxes by $32 a year for the average homeowner, while a $1 billion bond would raise them by $27.
Regardless of the size of the bonds, Berry pointed out that the overall tax rate for residents should continue to decline based on county finances.
“We have to be careful when we talk about raising taxes. We pay off a lot of debt. This bond package does not mean that rates will rise; it just means that our debt service rates won’t decline as quickly,” Berry said.
Over the next two weeks, Berry said he will refine the scope of work for the community engagement plan with the companies the county has contracted before a special meeting between Aug. 12 and 22, where the commissioners could vote to put the link on the vote and start discussions with consulting firms.