Council approves mayor to give mandatory furloughs

December 8, 2010 2:44:59 PM PST
First came word of voluntary furloughs. Now, as of Wednesday, Houston Mayor Annise Parker has the power to hand out mandatory furloughs. She says they may be necessary to help balance the budget, but that means very little to those city employees who live paycheck to paycheck.

There is no good news in any of this. Parker said on Wednesday that she's preparing ordinances for possible layoffs, but she doesn't believe that will be necessary, and she reiterated she won't be raising taxes. However, she said she might issue mandatory furloughs that will hit a lot of people where it hurts the most.

As one of the people who maintain signs around the city, Dalton Van Slyde doesn't bring home a big paycheck. He's worried it's about to get even smaller.

"Are you prepared to take a mandatory furlough?" we asked him.

"No," he replied.

"Can you afford it?"

"No."

On Wednesday morning, City Council passed an ordinance giving Mayor Parker the authority to issue a mandatory furlough in an effort to close what the mayor says is a $26 million budget gap.

"By the end of the December, I have to decide about furloughs," Parker said. "I'm not going to wait until the last minute, but I'm also not going to call for one that is unnecessary."

A possible scenario for the mandatory furloughs would involve all civilian employees taking one day off a month starting in January; that would save the city around $6 million.

But that's just part of the plan.

The mayor hopes to close a large portion of the budget gap by selling surplus property; the idea is to raise up to $16 million but so far, most of those deals have not closed.

"I'm not interested in giving away city property," Parker said. "We'll get good value for it or I'll find other ways to cut spending."

If mandatory furloughs occur, council members say Houstonians need to be prepared to see some effects.

"I think going forward, we need to be prepared to know that there may be a reduction in services," Councilwoman Melissa Noriega said. "If the city is not open on Fridays, we're not going to be able to fill your permits on Friday."

While Van Slyde just hopes he keeps his job, he's preparing for a smaller paycheck.

"We know it's going to come," he said.

"How do you feel about it?" we asked Van Slyde.

"I can't tell you; you already know probably," he said.

City workers aren't happy about it, but if mandatory furloughs are required, the union says city workers who make less than about $10.60 per hour are exempt from the move because they realize most of those workers simply can't afford it.


Load Comments