The proposed 2012 Harris County property tax rates are not slated to increase from a total of 62.9 cents per $100 of taxable value, but they will be slightly rebalanced if approved by commissioners in October.
During the mid-year budget review at Harris County Commissioners Court Sept. 25, chief budget officer Bill Jackson proposed a shift of one penny from the Harris Health System, formerly known as the Harris County Hospital District, to the county’s debt service, which includes funding for flood control, roads and infrastructure.
“This year we can take the reduction, and we still think we can break even or better,” said David Lopez, Harris Health System CEO. “Next year is when it becomes very critical to get that penny back because ultimately when you take that penny, [worth] $26.5 million, and use it for an intergovernmental transfer, that would draw down federal matching, so that $26.5 million would become $63.4 million for us for the support of the people in our community.”
Also on the Harris Health System’s radar is the proposed expansion of Medicaid, which was made possible through the Affordable Care Act, Lopez said.
“That is certainly an opportunity for us, but our governor [Rick Perry] has stated we won’t do the Medicaid expansion, but I maintain the legislature needs to weigh in on the issue,” he said.
If the expansion does occur in Harris County, there are two areas of concern for Lopez: there will still be 500,000 to 600,000 uninsured residents, and Medicaid rates that are paid are low. On the hospital side Medicaid reimburses the department at 52 percent of cost, Lopez said.
“There are providers in our community—physicians and hospitals—that cannot maintain that level of support at that rate,” he said. “Just because you have coverage doesn’t mean you’ll get care.”
Commissioners also heard an update on the county’s flood control district, which will begin to do much less with much less, said Art Storey, director of public infrastructure for Harris County. The total tax rate for the district is slated to remain the same at 2.8 cents, but the general fund and debt service portions were rebalanced to increase the latter.
“The 2.8 cent [tax rate] was what it took to run the [flood control district] and cut the weeds, and the capital program was supported for almost a decade by debt,” Storey said. “We essentially have no ability to do anything other than pay the bills, and in fact we need to work with management services to do that going forward.”
Over the past decade that the district was supported by debt, it has gotten a lot done, ranging from enhanced channels to detention basins that provide flood control and park enhancements, Storey said.
“We’ve done a lot of projects, but we’ve accumulated a lot of debt, and it’s beyond our 2.8 cents capability to manage,” he said.
The proposed tax rates will be up for approval Oct. 23 by commissioners court.