Mandatory furloughs for city workers

December 30, 2010 3:23:21 PM PST
It's official -- starting next year city employees will have to take six unpaid days off over the next six months. The mandatory furlough plan is part of the city's efforts to thin out a $30 million budget gap. Inside City Hall's proclamation room Thursday morning, there was an announcement which Mayor Annise Parker knew would be painful to make.

"This is a step that I didn't want to take," she said. "I don't believe furloughs are the answer for the city."

Voluntary furloughs, Mayor Parker says, were not enough. Though they saved the city more than $400,000, she anticipates a budget gap of $13 million for this fiscal year.

"A six day mandatory furlough for civilian personnel in the City of Houston will contribute about $5 million to that gap," Mayor Parker explained.

City leaders hope the sale of property will help to additionally close that gap.

Not all employees will be forced to take the unpaid days. Those exempt are folks making less than $24,000 a year, plus classified or, as Mayor Parker puts it, "mission critical" employees -- for example, police, fire and some at the Houston Emergency Center, like those who handle 911 calls.

Forcing those employees to take time off, Mayor Parker says, would necessitate overtime to fill the positions. Also exempt is any employee whose job generates revenue.

Houston City Council Member Mike Sullivan said, "Hats off to the mayor, but it's just not enough."

Sullivan calls this only a short-term fix. He says spending must be further reduced.

"In the next three years we're looking at a $500 million deficit with the city," Sullivan said. "You're not going to be able to solve that on the backs of the city's employees."

Some of those employees affected though say this is not the worst thing they can imagine.

"Somebody might lose their job," said city employee Sheliah McDonald. "If this will help people keep their jobs, then go for it."

Mayor Parker says 400 jobs with the city have already been terminated and another 100 are expected after the first of the year.


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