What costs will the city cut?

September 1, 2009 4:52:49 PM PDT
City leaders are cracking the whip on spending after the city controller on Tuesday said Houston is operating at a $103 million shortfall. And while the mayor disagrees with the grand total, it hasn't stopped him from halting some planned projects to save money. Despite city leaders disagreements, they do agree there are several priorities. They don't want to cut any safety services, like police and fire. And no one in public office wants to raise taxes. But it's clear that some belt-tightening is on the way.

Tensions were high at city hall Tuesday morning, as Controller Annise Parker officially delivered the controversial estimate the city has a $103 million budget shortfall.

"Administration seems to be having a discussion on is the glass half full or half empty," said Parker.

And once again, Mayor Bill White's budget director pushed back, saying the projected shortfall is far smaller.

"It's part of being transparent, is that the revenue drop has caused us to have a shortfall of $34, $35 million, which is what I'm projecting," said Finance Director Michelle Mitchell.

Even with the smaller number, the city will be making some cuts. Among the suggested cutbacks are the following

  • One percent for all city departments, saving $15 million
  • The delay of 3 new police helicopters, saving $6 million
  • Renegotiate trash contract, saving $7.5 million
  • The possible closing of Brock Park golf course at half a million.
One thing not on the table is mass layoffs.

"Should city employees have to worry about their jobs?" we asked Mayor White.

"City employees in general? No," he answered.

"Firefighters and police?"

"No."

But even the proposed cuts don't satisfy all council members, including Pam Holm, one of the few elected officials who voted against the original budget her colleagues passed just two months ago.

"What happens if we have an Allison or an Ike or a Rita?" asked Holm. "This is what frightens me is that we act like, 'Oh, we're just going to find $35 million."

Houston isn't the only city making cutbacks. A new study by the National League of Cities says 9 of 10 cities have been forced to cut spending. One of the biggest reasons is the decline in the housing market, cutting into property tax revenue. Forty-five percent of cities have increased fees for services, while 25 percent have increased property taxes.

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