Mayor Parker: HPD, HFD must make budget cuts

HOUSTON Houston Mayor Annise Parker Wednesday asked various departments in the city to cut from 1 to 3 percent from their budgets. We've learned both the Houston Fire Department and the Houston Police Department are being asked to make cuts. HPD is already dealing with an officer shortage.

The mayor is asking HPD to trim 1.5 percent off its budget. While the mayor believes it can be done without slowing or impacting service to taxpayers, some residents and even one city council member have their doubts.

When it comes to police service, the words "budget cuts" don't appeal some residents.

"It's that old saying, 'You can never get a cop when you need one,'" said resident Tyrell Taylor.

He worries that if the police department is forced to make cuts, officers would be the first to go. It's an argument that Mayor Parker challenged on Wednesday.

"We may be the last major city in America not to have a furlough," said Mayor Parker.

The mayor wants the department to look at other cost-saving measures like assessing the fees it charges on certain services. She also wants the department to rein in its overtime budget which was $50 million last year. She thinks that can be done opening up more police academies and getting more new officers in the field.

"We can put more overtime to our existing officers or we can hire new officers. My goal is to reprogram that overtime to hiring new officers," said Mayor Parker.

Houston City Council member and former police officer Ed Gonzalez says personnel is a main part of HPD's budget and leaving that intact will be hard.

"Can they do it? Probably not. Obviously we want to make sure public safety stays at the highest levels," said Council Member Gonzalez.

The Houston Police Officers Union believes cuts can be made without cutting personnel, however the president acknowledges there may be a slight impact on service.

"Normally it's a ripple effect on your lesser priority calls. Someone calling saying, 'This car is parked illegally on my street,' it may take a little longer to get a police officer out there," said Gary Blankinship, President of HPOU.

HPD said Wednesday that all options are being considered, but would not say specifically what might be cut.

One resident says he understands the difficult position the city finds itself in.

"The entire country is going through a struggle right now so we as a people all need to pull together and pull our resources to make the resources that we have stretch," said resident Chris Tucker.

Mayor Parker points out that in the last five years, HPD's budget has grown 40 percent and that's why she believes there is room to make the necessary cuts. Although she believes the city can proceed without a furlough, she says she's leaving that up to individual departments, so it's not completely off the table. She's also considering a review of fees for service in all departments.

The Houston Fire Department is also being asked to cut 1.5 percent from its budget. The mayor said those cuts would be from non-fire suppression areas.

As for some other departments, she is cutting the city secretary by 1 percent and council office's request by 1 percent. The solid waste department will remain at current levels due to how much it's already reduced spending.

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