County commissioners begin budget process

February 22, 2011 4:43:14 PM PST
Harris County commissioners are trying to finalize a budget. On Tuesday, commissioners met with members of law enforcement to get more input on how to cut costs.

For a few months, commissioners have been telling county departments they need to cut 10 percent across the board and there's a hiring freeze. On Tuesday, some good news was announced -- the hiring freeze may be lifted.

At the east Harris County neighborhood of Woodforest, Annette Lede is concerned about her safety.

"I'm not happy with the security and the police patrols because there's a lot of doors kicked in our neighborhood," she said.

Lede would like to see more patrols from their contract deputies or the sheriff's department, but her neighbor feels differently.

"We have no problems. We call them. They'll come out," concerned homeowner Shirley Rosignon said.

County commissioners have told every county department to cut 10 percent from their budget. And on Tuesday, law enforcement officials told commissioners they are doing their best. But at least one constable says some of her deputies are facing a cut in hours.

"I'm going to stick with the 32 hours a week, but I'm going to have to cut some of my repair parts for vehicles," Constable May Walker said.

The biggest budget fight is in the sheriff's department, where currently 400 vacancies remain because of a hiring freeze. Commissioners say they're considering un-freezing the hiring freeze with the new budget. The sheriff says that's a good start.

"We're not going to be where we'd like to be. That's the obvious. But the fact is anything we can do to get more people into the organization to provide support for the employees, it's going to be a good day," Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said.

Even if the hiring freeze is lifted, no one in Harris County will get additional money, which means if Lede is hoping for more deputies, she probably won't get what she wants.

"Just any sort of patrolling in the neighborhood; I hear that we do have some, but I never see them," Lede said.

Even if the hiring freeze is lifted, it doesn't mean the department can fill its 400 vacancies. It just means they'll be able to replace anyone it may lose going forward.