City of Houston announces layoffs

March 3, 2011 8:03:09 PM PST
A massive budget shortfall will soon hit the city hard, and that means cuts in departments across the board.

For the first time, the mayor has released numbers on how many workers the city may have to lay off to cover a budget shortfall.

The mayor's office on Thursday said it's looking at possibly laying off 2,300 city workers. That figure came from dividing a $130 million budget shortfall by the average city worker income of $55,000.

It's important to remember that we're not just talking about people who are losing their livelihood, but likely services that will be cut on your block.

The mayor's said departments could focus only on personnel, or make cuts from different salary ranges and programs.

"It's up to them to figure out how to get there, but we have been having a series of intense budget workshops with council members," Mayor Annise Parker said. "Council members have wanted to be much more part of this process, and I've been warning them that we couldn't just prune the branches, we would actually cut off big limbs."

The police, fire, solid waste and municipal courts would have to cut about 5 percent of its budget, while the rest of the city would have to cut from 10 to nearly 28 percent of its spending.

"The police department and the fire department together is two thirds of the city budget. I came down on the side of, those two departments are going to have to decide how to absorb five percent cuts," Parker said.

Police Chief Charles McClelland admitted on Thursday afternoon that everything, including layoffs, has to be considered.

The police union president went one step further telling us, "We've already been cut to the bone. These will cut into the marrow." He predicts it will cut down on the number of officers on Houston's streets.

For the fire department, it doesn't get much better at least, according to the firefighters union president.

The cuts will be close to $22 million. More than 90 percent of the fire department's budget is salaries.

"Anyone talking about a cut that deep has to be talking about closing some fire stations," Houston Professional Firefighters President Jeffrey Caynon said.

Caynon is also preparing for the possibility of layoffs among his members and for someone who's needed to call 911.

This isn't the first round of cuts for the city.

To save an expected $5 million to $6 million, every civilian city employee is forced to take six unpaid days off this year. In the last twelve months, the city's lost hundreds of employees and cut services you use.

Library hours are down, health clinics are closed one day a month, and the fire department's moved firefighters from headquarters back to the streets.

The city's police department also already has made substantial cuts in its budget. Overtime this year was slashed and they've lost 75 officers on the streets. They've already cut so many cadet classes at the academy that there's no way new recruits next year will even keep up with retirements, meaning we'll have fewer officers on the streets --even before these cuts.

Now the services you use likely will be cut even more.

"We've trimmed more than $250 million in city spending in just over a year, but we've done it without service cuts. We cannot any longer deal without service cuts," Parker said.

This is a dark day and a dark time for the city of Houston, and we're continuing to look at what these cuts mean and what services it will affect.

Stay with Eyewitness News for the latest developments on this story.