County passes $1.2 billion budget, but layoffs loom

March 8, 2011 4:27:45 PM PST
Harris County leaders have approved a new budget worth over a billion dollars. And just like we've been hearing from the state and the city of Houston, county departments across the board are also having to do some serious slashing. The bottom line is that everyone is having to cut, and that includes law enforcement operations like sheriffs and constables. Unfortunately, it's going to hit you eventually.

Linda Martinez has lived in north Harris County for 14 years, an area she says that needs more, not less, law enforcement.

"There's always problems, and sirens going on here, and if they cut, it's just going to get worse," said Martinez.

She lives close to a sheriff's department store front. It's a crucial services say deputies who work there.

"It's not just a storefront operation, it's a satellite operation for traffic, patrol; we have detectives who work out of here," said Dep. Ed Aldridge of the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

But all the sheriff department's store front offices are on the endangered list.

Commissioners passed a $1.2 billion budget on Tuesday that will force every county department to make cuts. Already more than 1,000 jobs county-wide will go unfilled, and the sheriff says he'll need to find other ways to save money.

"Obviously conversations of what the role of the storefronts will be, we'll be looking to civilianize certain operations. So there are lot of things that are going to be on the table," said Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

And the sheriff isn't alone. Constable Ron Hickman of Precinct 4 says he might have to lay off up to 50 deputies.

"Oh, it's very frustrating. Nobody likes to think that police officers are expendable employees," said Constable Hickman.

But commissioners say the county's smaller coffers leave them little choice -- exactly what homeowners like Martinez don't want to hear.

"Yea, it's not going to get any better soon," said Martinez.

For now, there are no changes to contracts for constable and sheriff protection for neighborhoods, but that too is under study.