Budget tightening for Harris County

September 29, 2009 5:27:40 PM PDT
Harris County leaders spent much of the day analyzing how your tax dollars are being spent and it didn't take long for them to realize it is time to start cutting back.There are no planned layoffs or furloughs. However, the county says it expects county revenues to be flat next year, so they are taking some pre-emptive, money saving moves.

At the Harris County Commissioners Court there was a recommendation that the county, like so many American families, needs cut back on spending because tax revenues are expected to stay flat for the next year.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, "If you know you're going to be facing a shortfall or a flat budget next year, let's go ahead and take steps now and pay for it, so we don't have to take what I refer to as Draconian measures next year."

Among the belt tightening moves approved:

  • Eliminate all out of state travel
  • No cost of living adjustments
  • Institute a hiring freeze, with exceptions on a case by case basis
  • County employees seem resigned to the changes.

    "It's always a good thing, less waste. You look around, you can see a lot of government waste," said Harris County employee Tim Leonard, even as he conceded he'd like a cost of living increase.

    Just as commissioners were considering budget cuts, the sheriff's department came in asking to hire 60 additional jailers. That's something Commissioner Jerry Eversole didn't really like.

    He asked, "Don't you think, Mr. Jimenez, it would be kind of wise to use the hundred that you already have before you come ask us for 60 more?"

    But the sheriff's department says its current openings are for patrol deputies, not jailers and no action would cause major problems.

    Joe Jimenez with the Harris County Sheriff's Office said, "If we do nothing, then we get into more situations where our staff continues to get upset and we do not keep the peace internally."

    Both sides agreed to study the proposal for a few weeks. But our political analyst says, it's not just the budget crunch. It's also politics.

    "(Sheriff Adrian) Garcia trying to aggressively seek more resources for his department, and the Republican majority on county court pushing back and saying we've already given you the money you need," explained ABC13 Political Consultant Dr. Richard Murray.

    The commissioners court will study a number of additional belt tightening ideas and evaluate them in a couple of weeks.

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