Cops pack Harris County courtroom for debate over police funding

Citing illness, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo cut short Tuesday’s Court of Commissioners meeting and left the room amid a chorus of boos from some of the dozens of deputy constables and of their supporters who showed up to plead for an increase in their budgets.

Uniformed law enforcement officers lined the hallways and courtroom, their presence marking an escalation in an ongoing political battle over the county’s proposed tax rate and budget for fiscal year 2023.

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Not present were Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who skipped their third straight meeting to deny the Democratic majority a quorum to set the property tax rate. State law requires that four of the five members of the court be present to vote on the rate.

Under state law, if no quorum is available to set the tax rate by Oct. 28, the levy is automatically set at what’s known as the “no tax rate.” new revenue”, which is the rate that generates the same amount of funding as the previous year. In the case of Harris County, the rate of no new revenue would yield about $45 million more than last year due to newly developed properties being taxed.

The two Republican commissioners say the tax rate and budget originally proposed by Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia would cost taxpayers already hit by inflation and two years too much. of pandemic. They want Democrats to compromise on the tax rate and agree to hire 200 more police officers. Cagle last week held a press conference to launch such a proposal and had called on Hidalgo to call a special meeting to discuss it without a vote.

Instead, the discussion was placed on Tuesday’s court agenda, with a separate item to review and approve the tax rate.

The meeting began several minutes late amid uncertainty over whether even three members of the tribunal would show up.

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Hidalgo, who is up for re-election, temporarily left the campaign trail last week to recover from an emergency room visit she linked to food poisoning. She arrived about half an hour into the meeting on Tuesday and said she was unlikely to be able to stay for the entire meeting because a doctor had ordered her to stay home.

“I haven’t asked to be in the ER twice in a week,” Hidalgo said.

A member of the public responded by shouting, “Can you show us your doctor’s excuse?”

As Hidalgo rose to leave, the crowd erupted in loud boos. When the court broke for a 10-minute break, the law enforcement officers left the meeting and did not return.

Law enforcement officers from the Harris County Constabulary Offices lined the hallways and courtroom as Harris County Commissioners Court was scheduled to begin Tuesday morning.

Jen Rice/Houston Column

Moments before the meeting was scheduled to start, Hidalgo’s Republican hopeful in the November election, Alexandra del Moral Mealer, shared a post on Twitter showing a large number of law enforcement outside the county courthouse .

While dozens of people typically register to speak at Court of Commissioners meetings, an unusual number of law enforcement officials registered to speak on Tuesday, including the district attorney Kim Ogg, former commissioner Steve Radack, officer Alan Rosen, sheriff Ed Gonzalez and officer Ted. Heap.

In a statement, Cagle explained his decision not to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am disappointed that some of my colleagues at Commissioners Court have again refused to negotiate in good faith with their historic tax hike proposal,” Cagle said. “Instead of responding to my proposal or scheduling a Court of Commissioners-only town hall meeting to break the impasse and do what is right for the ratepayers, the Majority have again scheduled a meeting to expedite their “solution.” “, which is literally the only one they’ve put on the agenda. My presence at this meeting would signify my consent to a tax rate that would cost taxpayers an additional $257 million.

THE CAGLE PLAN: Jack Cagle proposes alternative tax plan for Harris County and defends absences from court

Although the meeting legally ended when Hidalgo left, Ellis and Garcia remained in the room to listen to the speakers. Law enforcement and most civil servants left soon after Hidalgo. They will have the opportunity to speak when the meeting is postponed.

In response to Cagle’s comments, Ellis said in a statement that the two GOP commissioners were “recklessly freezing” the budget.

“I’m open to hearing any proposals from them that would do that as well, but I haven’t seen anything yet,” Ellis said. “We can’t discuss people who don’t show up, and we can’t discuss a plan that doesn’t exist. But even bogus plans have real consequences. They force Harris County to dump services lives and playing a dangerous game with the lives, health and safety of Harris County families to score political points It’s time they put politics aside to do what’s right for the people of Harris County.