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Potential Republican Block Of Tax Hike In Harris County, Firefighters Say They Don’t Have Confidence In HFD Chief, The Uncertainty Of Houston School Board Candidates, And More

These are some of the stories Houston Public Media is covering.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Top afternoon stories:

Harris County Commissioners Court
Harris County Commissioners Court.

Potential Republican Block Of Tax Increase In Harris County

Harris County leaders are preparing to vote on the largest property tax rate increase in a generation. The Republican minority on the Commissioners Court has a chance to block the tax hike on Tuesday, but it's unclear if they'll take it.

Texas law requires that at least four of the five court members be present in order to vote on a tax increase. If Harris County's two GOP commissioners don't show up tomorrow, there'll be no quorum and no vote.

"I haven't missed a Commissioners Court regular meeting in over five years," said Republican Commissioner Steve Radack. "I plan on attending the meeting. It's on my calendar. When I put things on my calendar, I usually go do them."

A spokesman for Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle said Cagle will not announce his strategy in advance.

The proposed tax increase would raise Harris County's property tax rate to 65.26 cents per $100 assessed valuation, up from the current rate of 62.998 cents per $100 assessed valuation. If, for whatever reason, the Court does not vote on a tax rate increase, the County Budget Office said the property tax rate will, by default, decrease to the effective tax rate of 61.17 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

HFD Chief Samuel Peña.

Firefighters Say They Don't Have Confidence In HFD Chief

More than 3,000 of the city's 4,000 firefighters have signed a no-confidence resolution against Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association announced Monday.

Among other issues, the resolution criticizes what it calls consistent underfunding and cutting of the fire department's budget and the continuing decline of HFD's fleet and facilities.

"This is a huge indication –not by the union, by the people who make up the union, the members, the Houston firefighters– that they are not in support," Patrick ‘Marty' Lancton, president of the firefighters union, told News 88.7.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responded with a written statement, calling the move 100% political. "Chief Sam Pena is a person of integrity and a strong leader for the Houston Fire Department," Turner said in the statement.

Peña also sent out a statement listing several accomplishments under his leadership, including the investment of over $31 million in the last three years for fire truck replacements and the installation of vehicle exhaust removal systems in 17 fire stations.

Candidates for the board of trustees for the Houston Independent School District.

The Uncertainty Of Houston School Board Candidates

This November could bring four new faces to the embattled Houston school board. But candidates are finding uncertainty about the board's future is one of their biggest challenges on the campaign trail.

Judith Cruz, who is running against board president Diana Davila in District 8, said that as she visits with voters, she's often asked if there will even be elections because of the looming threat of a state takeover of the Houston Independent School District.

"The question keeps coming up even though I keep addressing it and I feel like others are, but there's still so many unknowns and it just seems such weird timing to have elections if the state is going to come in," Cruz said.

It's widely expected that Texas' Education Commissioner Mike Morath will replace the elected Houston school board with outside managers either because of poor academic performance at Wheatley High School, which recently received its seventh consecutive failing rating, or because of the board's behavior and potential violations of state law and its own rules, as alleged in a preliminary state investigation.

One of the goals in the renovation of Jones Plaza is to attract more visitors that enjoy walking in downtown and will check out programmed performances at the venue.

Renovation And Renaming Of Jones Plaza

Houston socialite and philanthropist Lynn Wyatt is giving a $10 million gift to the city to renovate Jones Plaza, which will be renamed Lynn Wyatt Square For The Performing Arts.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and David Mincberg, board chairman of Houston First, made the announcement Monday during an event held at the venue. Wyatt herself, as well as city officials and representatives of the Theater District, attended.

"I believe that the arts, including the performing arts, are the soul of any city," said Wyatt, while adding she felt very touched by the warm reception to the project.

The renovated area will have a new performing space, gardens, a water cascade and a restaurant.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for August 2020 and the project is slated to be completed by summer 2021.

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