Sheriff's department facing budget shortfall

HOUSTON In a quiet subdivision in northeast Harris County, Elvin Reed says he's seen sheriff patrols pick up ever since a neighbor's house was burglarized a few months ago.

"The neighborhood kind of got together after that, plus I got surveillance in my house so I know what's going on. I really feel safe," said Reed.

While Reed is happy to see the increased in patrols, it's clear that the Harris County Sheriff's Department is stretched thin. When the fiscal year ends next month, the department is expected to be way over budget.

"I think we are closing the year by $50 million over budget," said Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

The problem faced by Sheriff Garcia isn't new. A quick glance of the last four budgets show huge budget gaps every year.

  • Fiscal year 2010: $49.3 million
  • Fiscal year 2009: $55.8 million
  • Fiscal year 2008: $46.5 million
  • Fiscal year 2007: $24.6 million

The biggest drain on funds is the overtime required to staff the jail.

"That population ties directly to my budget in terms of operating costs, overtime and staffing," Sheriff Garcia.

Sheriff Garcia says he is working with the county's budget office and expects no job cuts to offset the budget gap, but the deputies' union says it's frustrated by the lack of concrete information.

"We're trying to get through the system, but it's like from the outside looking in. Communication from the top to the bottom, there is none," said Robert Goerlitz of the Harris County Deputies Union.

County officials say the larger problem is that with more than 80 percent of the sheriff's budget going toward salaries, there is just very little wiggle room, and a more realistic approach may be a slightly larger budget.

"I think what we're going to try to do this time is to make sure the budget is realistic going in," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

There is not much they can do for the pending budget cycle which ends next month. They'll have to find the money somewhere in the county coffers. As for next year, the current budget expectation is about $5 million more than they have this year. The sheriff's department will present that budget to the county budget board on Thursday.

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