Harris County Commissioners Court Preview: Budget briefing, bond awareness, November election prep
After a three-week break, Harris County commissioners will receive a briefing on the 2022-23 fiscal year budget, vote to approve outreach funding for the $1.2 billion November bond, and discuss logistics related to the November elections at their August 23 meeting.
The agenda for the Court of Commissioners is published at 9 a.m. on the Friday preceding each meeting. Meetings take place at 10 a.m. and are available live here.
Presentation of the budget and tax rates
Daniel Ramos, executive director of the Harris County Office of Management and Budget, will present the proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which includes the county general fund as well as the budgets for the Harris County Toll Road Authority and the Harris County Flood Control District. .
Ramos said Community Impact Journal the OMB recommends an operating budget of $2.24 billion for the county general fund and a county tax rate of $0.36035 per $100 of assessed value. That’s lower than the voter approval rating — the maximum rate allowed by Senate Bill 2 — of $0.36054, calculated by tax collector Ann Harris Bennett and submitted to the court for the meeting. of August 23.
SB 2 requires a city or county to hold an election if it offers to raise more than 3.5% more revenue than the previous year. Because the county has a larger tax base from which property value assessments have risen, the proposed aggregate rate for the general fund and HCFCD of $0.39511 is 3.7% lower than the rate of 2021 of $0.41042. This marks the fourth consecutive reduction in the county’s overall tax rate, according to Ramos.
After the August 23 meeting, commissioners will hold public engagement meetings for their constituencies throughout September and amend and adopt the budget. A vote on the tax rate would likely take place on September 13, with the budget taking effect on October 1.
November bond campaign
Two departments requested funding to continue public engagement efforts for the $1.2 billion bond, which was approved by a 3-2 split vote at a special Court of Commissioners meeting on August 18 and heads to the polls for the November 8 elections.
The Harris County Office of the County Engineer asked to spend no more than $20,000 on “various locations” for public meetings across the county, according to backup information provided in the agenda. The county should use its own buildings for most meetings, but may need flexibility to schedule public meetings at churches, schools and other non-county facilities.
Commissioners could also approve three public outreach deals sought by the Harris County Procurement Department: $350,000 with Holloway Environmental and Communications Services Inc., $150,000 with Elmore Public Relations, Inc. and $150,000 with KGB Texas Communications.
The three companies have already been approved by commissioners for other county work with Houston-based Holloway assisting the HCTRA with various public relations efforts since May and Elmore and KGB providing communications services for the bond program HCFCD 2018 flooding since last November, according to the agenda documentation.
Path to the November elections
Several items on this week’s agenda relate to the upcoming elections in November.
In a 4-to-1 vote on August 16, members of the Harris County Election Commission approved Clifford Tatum, a former federal election chief in Washington, DC, as the county’s new election administrator. Tatum can officially assume the position once commissioners approve his official public bond, a document that allows the county to collect if an official does not perform his duties “faithfully,” according to first assistant county attorney Jonathan Fombonne.
Commissioners will vote to approve nominees for President or Alternate Election Judges with terms through July 31, 2023. They will also vote to approve polling stations; The Office of the Election Administrator submitted 90 early voting locations and 782 polling locations countywide, according to backup information in the Agenda. Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle both put items on the agenda to discuss their concerns about the polling stations.
The Office of the Election Administrator is also requesting an initial $1.14 million for an election management system to replace the county’s current VEMACS system, which was last updated in 2003. Currently, the office uses two separate databases to manage voter registration and election management. According to the project schedule provided in the backup information on the agenda, the functionality of a new system would be used as a secondary backup of VEMACS for the May 2023 local elections with full project implementation scheduled for February. 2024.
School board safety recommendations
The Harris County Safe School Commission’s recommendations will be released at the Aug. 23 meeting, and Ramsey asked for discussion and possible action based on the commission’s findings on how to address school safety issues.
The five-member commission first met on June 30 and includes Saami Baig, a high school student at John Cooper School in The Woodlands; Traci Latson, teacher at Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Calandrian Simpson Kemp, founder of No Weapon #1Life Empowerment Foundation and member of Moms Demand Action; Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen; and Lisa Andrews Alpe, Vice President of the Spring Branch ISD School Board.
End of the burning ban
Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen recommended lifting the burning ban, which commissioners approved in unincorporated areas of Harris County on June 28.
Per Harris County Fire Code Section 352.081, the county may implement a burn ban when the average Keetch-Byram Drought Index is 575 or greater. The index ranges from 0 to 800, with 800 representing absolutely dry conditions. On June 28, Harris County’s average KBDI was 681.
According to the background information provided in the agenda, the KBDI on August 19 was 506 and is expected to drop with the weekend rainfall.