Harris County leaders crunch budget numbers

January 27, 2011 3:51:33 PM PST
Harris County leaders are being told to make some drastic cuts across the board and today they crunched the numbers in a budget meeting that at times got a little tense. The tricky part is cutting back without putting public safety at risk. That budget meeting is probably the last place in the world anyone wanted to be this morning.

"We are working in the spirit of the tough economy," said Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Talking budget when the budget is shrinking.

"This is a zero-based budget," said Sheriff Garcia.

From the sheriff to the fire marshal and the county medical examiner, one by one department heads made their cases for how much money they need and how little they can do without.

"When the economy is tough is when public safety should be most invested in," the sheriff said.

Every county department was asked to slash 10 percent -- that includes departments dealing with public safety. The fire marshal says it could mean layoffs in his 70 person department.

"We have to live within our means and so those programs that are most at risk are those programs that enhance the service we provide, but there may be other alternatives that we'll investigate to make sure the citizens are safe," said Harris County Fire Marshal Mike Montgomery.

This is not a done deal yet. There are still more meetings and workshops to talk about the numbers, but today was a wake-up call.

"Can't say exactly at the moment what the situation is going to be with the constables and the sheriff, but we'll do the best we can," said Harris County Budget Director Dick Raycraft.

The sheriff says he cannot absorb any more cuts.

"It wouldn't be pretty. It would put citizens at risk. It would put my employees at risk," said Sheriff Garcia.

The county's finance team is asking departments where they can cut 10 percent. The decision as to the final numbers will be made sometime next month.