Tax Assessor, Mayor Tangle Over Fee Agreement

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez says it’s time the City of Houston to pay its fair share of the cost of collecting local taxes. It’s an issue that’s testing the patience of both Vasquez and Houston Mayor Bill White. Laurie Johnson reports.

It’s a complicated thing to explain, but in essence, Vasquez says the city has gotten a pretty good deal over the years. He says a contract signed back in 1995 allows the city to pay less than it should for the county to collect its taxes, a service 65 other local jurisdictions pay a fair rate for.

“To keep things even, either Harris County needs to eat the extra cost, the extra basically $310,000 a year that the city is not paying or we would have to raise everyone else’s fees, so we would penalize HISD and the Hospital District and all the small cities around the county for covering the city of Houston’s underpayment.” 

Vasquez says he’s tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with the mayor’s office and even showed-up at a council session to confront the Mayor White face-to-face. Vasquez says city council agreed to a new fee contract in June, but it still hasn’t been signed-off on by Mayor White.   

“I think we can get a lot more done without having to do this kind of publicity and this kind of press. And again, it’s such a moot point, there’s no reason for him to fight this because even if we terminate the contract, the new mayor can compel Harris County to collect their fees at which point we would put them on the same fee schedule as everyone else. It’s going to happen one way or another.”

Mayor White says he’s held-up the agreement in part because negotiations are ongoing that include having Harris County help the city collect red light violator fines by holding-up car registrations for people with unpaid tickets. The mayor says he hadn’t heard from Vasquez on the specific issue of a new fee agreement until this week. He also says the city doesn’t renegotiate standing contracts just because they’ve been in place for a number of years.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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