During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Fort Bend County residents have had to tighten their fiscal belts during a period of economic strain and uncertainty.
Fort Bend County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken DeMerchant believes it was incumbent upon the county to do the same.
“We kind of felt it was up to us to make sure that we lowered the county (property) tax rate,” DeMerchant said in a phone interview last week. “And so that’s where we were coming from, or at least where I was coming from. We wanted to provide some relief to folks that are really having a tough time right now.”
The county’s tax assessor-collector, Carrie Surratt, has hosted on the county’s website a database with tax information that features a drop-down menu to show each taxable entity and its adopted tax rate. But county residents will have to vote on their property taxes next month at the municipal level to determine their complete tax bill for 2020.
On Aug. 17, Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the bond rating for Fort Bend Levee Improvement District No. 6 to A3 from Baa1. Moody’s new rating improves the district’s outlook and credit risk from “moderate” to “low.”
For DeMerchant, the implication of that assessment is a positive one for Fort Bend County residents.
“Our finances are really in good shape,” DeMerchant said. “We’re actually in a financial position where we can lower taxes and still provide all of the services that our residents require.”
In late April and early March, the county initiated a hiring freeze and asked for each department to reduce its budget by 20 percent. DeMerchant said some elected officials and some departments gave back more than 20 percent of their budgets and/or salaries. The county also halted salary increases.
On Aug. 17 in a special session, Fort Bend County Commissioners Court approved an order calling for a bond election to be held on Nov. 3.
DeMerchant said the bond election will not increase taxes for residents.
“Last year I was personally involved in remedying the county’s fiscal climate, which has now positioned us financially to take advantage of and take care of the county’s infrastructure,” DeMerchant said in a statement. “The 2020 bond will address critical road infrastructure, relieving congestion, addressing drainage and improving parks and trails. Parks and trails are important for an active and healthy lifestyle (both physical and mental) along with the benefit it lends to cleaner air, adding value to our property, and beautification of our county as a whole.”
Some specific issues DeMerchant said would be addressed by the mobility bond were relieving congestion at the Highway 6 intersections with Airport Boulevard and Bellfort Boulevard.
The bond will also include funding for substantial improvements and expansions to Precinct 4’s existing trail networks.