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.
He recommends the Dome be turned over to a conservancy that would create two levels of parking on the floor of the Dome and commercial space and exhibition space above that for auto and boat shows, for example.
When asked about high speed rail, Judge Emmett said he’s heard concerns about the liabilities the state would face if the project fails, “…but it’s being privately funded and operated. No state funds are involved.”
“I understand land owners don’t want it,” he said, “but land owners didn’t want the I-610 Loop or Beltway 8 either. I think we’re all glad they were built.”
Will Emmett run for another term in 2018?
“This is a great job, I enjoy it, but I’ll be turning 70 this year,” the judge said. “Is this what I want to do. I’ll have to decide by December.”
In introducing Emmett, John Flournoy with McCord Development, developers of Generation Park, praised the county’s support.
“We’re on the map, Flournoy said. “Los Cucos Restaurant in Fall Creek reported the greatest amount of alcohol sales of the entire chain, and Camden Builders’ best performing portfolio are its apartments at West Lake Houston at Beltway 8. We are the ‘shining star’ in difficult times.”
The Chamber will honor teachers from Humble ISD, schools east of I-45 in Spring ISD, area private schools and Teachers of Excellence from Lone Star College at the Teachers of the Year Luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 11:30 am, at the Humble Civic Center. Register at lakehouston.org.