City leaders told to tighten belts

April 22, 2009 4:07:57 PM PDT
City department leaders have been ordered to take a hard look at how to cut their budgets, or someone else may do it for them. That's the warning issued by Mayor Bill White who says something needs to be done to reduce expenses.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

From fixing water breaks, to building out the city's infrastructure, you see city workers out almost every day. The ones we talked to say they're not worried about their jobs being affected by the nationwide recession.

"Not in my department," said solid waste employee Levada Tidwell. "Because we do the trash, and people always need trash."

But Mayor White is concerned about the long term effects of the economic downturn, and he's aggressively asking city departments to look for ways to streamline their work.

Mayor White said, "You could have one more highly compensated doing the job of two, or if you can decrease the supervisor to employee ratio, I want them to be looking for that."

Mayor White insists there are no plans for any citywide employee layoffs, but he is considering bringing in outside consultants to look at the city's budget if city managers can't find the cost savings themselves.

He explained, "If I can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get millions of dollars of efficiency, I'm willing to do it."

The employees' union doesn't like the idea, saying it could just be a precursor to layoffs.

Alejandra Valles with the Houston Employees Union said, "We don't agree that that's the best course of action. Why not ask city employees themselves, who work side by side with him, hands on, on the front line, what they think."

Mayor White says he's doesn't know how much money he's trying to save yet. Employees say they'll just keep on working, and for now they remain unconcerned

Public works employee Cory Jerome said, "We always have stuff to do. It's non-stop work."

Employees we talked to say they feel secure in their jobs, but city leaders say a number of vacancies have gone unfilled in the past few months in an effort to streamline and save money in the face of the nationwide downturn. The city budget workshops are expected to start in late May. That should give more specifics on where the city is trying to streamline and whether or not outside consultants will be needed.

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