HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Tuesday was the last day for Harris County Commissioners to set a budget for 2023, but because two commissioners refused to show up to yet another hearing, County Judge Lina Hidalgo says critical resources in the county will take a hit.
"As of 4:17 p.m. on October 25, we take no action; the Harris County hospital system is now $45 million dollars in the red," Judge Hidalgo said during Tuesday's Commissioners meeting.
Noticeably absent from Tuesday's meeting again, were County Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, and because of that, a new tax rate couldn't be approved.
"What has happened now that they refused to show up is that we have now defaulted to an even lower tax rate, which means we don't have the revenue we need to maintain basic services," said Hidalgo.
Hidalgo says the additional money was needed to fund pay raises and to expand health care in Harris County and law enforcement programs. The plan was to give law enforcement officers an 8.25% raise, but now that won't happen, and other cuts have to be made.
"There simply isn't money for that. We were going to give you an 8.25% raise. Now, it's going to be 4%. We will no longer have an additional 35 investigators or an additional cadet class for the sheriff's office. We're cutting money to the tune of $60 million for the sheriff, $5 million for the DA, and for the constables, I think it's around $11 million," said Hidalgo.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg showed up to Tuesday's meeting along with numerous constables and deputies. They voiced their frustration, saying their budget shouldn't be dependent upon tax rate approval or any politics at play between the county judge and commissioners.
"This proposal to cut $5 million from our budget is basically cutting from someone who can't be cut anymore; would you have me end sex trafficking prosecution, capital murder prosecution, where would you have us cut?" Ogg asked.
Commissioner Tom Ramsey sent the following statement on Tuesday:
"Despite the misrepresentations from today, the proposed tax rates would’ve resulted in generating a quarter-billion-dollars more in tax revenue. Posting this increase for five consecutive meetings is proof that the Court majority never intended to negotiate. Our constituents have been victims of wasteful spending for four years. From the addition of seven new departments, an $11M politically bid-rigged contract, and a historically expensive and disruptive redistricting yet no commitment to more neighborhood patrol officers – enough is enough. I am proud to have done my part in protecting our residents from the reckless management of their money.
Commissioner Ellis, who was in attendance at Tuesday's meeting sent the following statement condemning Cagle and Ramsey for not showing up:
"There were two empty chairs where Ramsey and Cagle should have been seated at the table, but they never showed up. Those two empty chairs equal 10,000 patients who will lose access to life-saving care because Ramsey and Cagle didn’t show up. Cagle and Ramsey’s empty chairs mean the Sheriff’s Department loses out on $44 million to protect our communities. Neighborhood flood projects will be delayed because of Cagle and Ramsey’s two empty chairs. Those two empty chairs represent 4.6 million residents who deserve better than Ramsey and Cagle gambling with their lives and livelihoods for a political payout."