Pearland adapting to budget shortfall

PEARLAND, TX And in suburbs especially, a few million dollars in the red can mean higher property tax rates and big delays in city projects.

It's a situation Pearland residents have not been in since the late 80's or early 90's. But as the 2011 budget approaches, city leaders are looking at what it will take to bounce back -- delaying projects, raising taxes or both.

After years of exponential growth. the city of Pearland is feeling the effects of a depressed economy. City leaders preparing the upcoming 2011 budget say a shortfall of $2.4 million is forcing the city to make some hard choices.

"It looks now that we are looking at a couple of years, at least, that are going to be a bit leaner," said Pearland City Manager Bill Eisen.

In the last 10 years, the city of Pearland exploded from a population of 34,000 in 2000 to about 94,000 today. But a stagnant housing market, reduction in sales tax revenue and property appraisals has reduced once strong revenue streams to a relative trickles.

"In our peak, we issued about 2,600 single family permits in one year," said Eisen. "That was about four or five years ago. This most recent year, we issued about 740."

And now, the options of how to shore up the shortfall. On the table right now is delaying voter-approved projects and an incremental tax hike.

"I'm not really in favor of paying more taxes, being a senior," said resident Tom Dinicaly.

"If they have to raise my taxes a bit to do what they want to do, I'm cool with that," said another resident with whom we spoke.

Delaying several capital improvement projects could save between $25 to $30 million. A planned soccer facility on Max Road has been put on hold, along with improvements to Independence Park. A major project, the widening of Bailey Road, would also be shelved.

"We really need it so bad because it's very dangerous," said resident Sam Suniga. "You know, they don't have no shoulder."

As Eisen crunches up the final numbers, Pearland city leaders still have time to look for solutions. The budget is not due until October, but residents sure have their opinions.

"Scrap any future projects and let them hunker down like the rest of us do," said resident Randy Dedman.

Some other cuts they are reviewing are freezing raises for city employees. Layoffs, while we're told will not be significant, are also on the table.

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