Harris County Judge Emmett proposes alternative to property tax

Harris County Judge Emmett proposes alternative to property tax

Tom Broad

Addresses Lake Houston Chamber luncheon

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has an alternative to the property tax.
“That’s our only source of income,”  Emmett confessed to a Lake Houston Chamber luncheon crowd, “the most reviled tax there is – and rightfully so.”

Emmett earned an enthusiastic round of applause when he suggested a 1.6-percent sales tax would raise the same amount of money for the county and the property tax could be abolished.  He spoke to a capacity crowd on Sept. 29 at the Chamber’s annual State of the County Luncheon.

Emmett listed six areas the county is responsible for – law enforcement, health care, transportation, flood control, homeland security and emergency management, and quality of life.

Each is funded through local property taxes, the judge said, the only funding means allowed by the state.
“Forty percent of our county budget is spent on law enforcement,” the judge said, “and we don’t get to pick our customers.  The state tells us what is illegal.  There are a lot of people in jail who shouldn’t be there.  At any given time, a third of our 9,000 inmates have mental health issues. It’s expensive for county taxpayer to house these inmates. The state needs to step up and provide funding and care.”

Another 28 percent of the county budget, the judge said, is spent on the hospital district and indigent health care.
“This health care is funded by your property tax dollars,” Judge Emmett said. “Medicare would pay for it but Texas isn’t participating in the program so funds that could reduce your property taxes or could be spent on other programs is spent instead on health care.”

“Frankly, if the state cuts property taxes, we’re going to have to ask you what do you not want us to do,” Emmett said.
“A couple times a year,” he said, “I get calls from Harris County residents demanding the county ban fireworks.”
“We can’t do it,” he admitted. “We don’t have ordinance power. Counties are arms of the state of Texas. We are only allowed to do what state law allows us to do.”

Emmett then ticked off a list of statistics that makes Harris County unique:
·    The county’s 4.5 million residents dwarf 25 states.
·    1.7 million county residents live outside cities.
·    By 2020, more county residents will live outside than inside the City of Houston.

In a discussion about the Astrodome, Emmett said as a state antiquities landmark, tearing it down – estimated to cost $30 million – is not an option.

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