Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday will decide whether to seek legislation to capture city of Houston sales taxes generated at county facilities, including Reliant Park.
Commissioner Steve Radack floated the idea at the court’s last meeting, spurred by the $353,000 annual bill the county will pay for Reliant under the city’s drainage fee.
The city collects about $950,000 in sales taxes each year from events at the Reliant complex, according to officials with the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. That money would be the easiest to target with the legislation. Millions more in sales taxes are generated inside Reliant Stadium, but those dollars go to pay construction debt on the building.
“I consider a million dollars a lot of money,” Radack said. “Obviously, the city thinks $353,000 is a lot of money. Absolutely we should pursue it.”
Honestly, the level of whining from Commissioners Court on this just amazes me. If the county had handed the deed for Reliant Stadium to Bob McNair instead of acting as his landlord, nobody would consider it remotely unusual for the city to hand McNair a bill for the acres of impermeable parking lots on that property. I don’t see why McNair’s landlord should be exempted from paying a drainage fee on this profit-generating piece of land. I understand that the County has its own reasons for counting every penny related to Reliant, but instead of getting their undies into a bunch and wasting the Legislature’s time, why not just pass the bill on to the Texans, since they’re the ones making the real money off of the stadium and its parking? Wouldn’t that make more sense?
The dispute has sparked a wider discussion of who pays for what.
Taxpayers give $500 million in property taxes each year to the Harris County Hospital District to provide health care for the poor, many of whom are Houstonians, and Harris County spends $200 million a year to run the county jail, temporary home to many city residents. The city should help pay both bills, Radack said.
Most of the county’s tax revenue, Parker responded, comes from city residents, and county residents use city roads, parks and libraries for which they are not taxed. Parker said she would love to know what share of her county taxes are spent in the city.
“I don’t think that we necessarily as Houston taxpayers get our fair share, but I’m out there beating on Harris County about that,” she said.
Emmett said he is not interested in a precise breakdown.
“The people in the city say, ‘We pay county property taxes, but we don’t get sheriff patrols and you don’t build any roads in our area,’ ” Emmett said. “People at the county say, ‘We provide health care for the indigent and we provide jail “services” for people in the city.’ Does that even out? I have no idea.”
Well, one person has been saying it, anyway. With all due respect to Judge Emmett, I am interested in a precise breakdown of Harris County’s revenues and expenditures. It should be easy to determine what share of the county’s property tax monies come from inside Houston city limits. Figuring out how much gets spent where will be trickier, but I’m sure the city and the county have accountants who are smart enough to handle it. I for one promise to quit whining about this if it turns out that in fact Houston is getting a fair shake. Anyone from the county willing to make the same commitment if it turns out Houston really is getting the shaft? You know how to reach me if you do.