Houston's mayor unveils city's budget plan

HOUSTON Due to the cooperation of the Houston Police Officers' Union and the Houston Police Officers' Pension System the need to lay off any police officers or jailers has been eliminated. Similarly, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association has reached a tentative agreement with the city that will eliminate the need for laying off any firefighters. However, Mayor Parker noted that the budget is not without some very painful decisions and shared sacrifices.

"The long-term forecast is for better economic times ahead, but we are not there yet," said Mayor Parker. "As a result, we have had to say farewell to 747 of our dedicated city employees. It hurts to have to layoff employees. It's tough to have to close swimming pools or reduce hours at libraries. These are gut wrenching decisions for city department directors and me because we know the impacts they will have."

For the second year in a row, the budget also does not include the use of pension obligation bonds or the issuance of any other long-term debt to meet current expenses. It incorporates the Houston First consolidation of Convention and Entertainment Facilities operations with the Convention Center Hotel Corporation. And it includes savings realized from the new employee health benefits contract, as well as the departmental and operational consolidations of fleet, fuel, human resources, payroll and information technology.

Departmental general fund budgets are 4 to 27 percent lower than 2011 spending levels, with the smaller reductions going to the most essential life and safety services -- police, fire, municipal courts and solid waste. Overall, the 2012 budget proposal is $100 million less than our current appropriation. This is in addition to more than $200 million that has been cut over the last two years to eliminate an imbalance between revenues and expenditures. The 2012 proposal is the lowest budget in three years.

Other Budget Changes
All Houston Public Library neighborhood libraries, except those under renovation, will remain open and adequately staffed. Saturday hours are being restored at 24 out of 41 libraries. There will be small changes in hours of operation at all libraries. However, after school locations will remain open until 6pm Monday through Thursday and until 5pm on Friday.

The Houston Parks and Recreation Department is closing eight swimming pools and seven community centers. These facilities have the lowest usage, are in need of repairs or are within at least two miles of another city pool or community center. One additional pool will be closed due to renovation. Pools slated to close are Alief, Cloverland, Finnigan, Independence Heights, Landsdale, Love, Robinson (Judson, Sr.) and Taylor (Hobart) Pools.

Despite these closings, many of the department's popular offerings, including youth tennis, the summer food service and summer enrichment camps will continue at the centers that will remain open. All city-funded youth sports leagues are being eliminated. Youth baseball will continue due to funding provided by the Houston Astros. The department will work with the privately-funded youth sports leagues for continued use of city playing fields. Other reductions are being made in the areas of grounds maintenance.

All Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) multi-service centers will remain open. However, the department will consolidate the majority of its clinical public health services into four health centers. The centers are La Nueva Casa de Amigos Health Center, Northside Health Center, Sharpstown Health Services and Sunnyside Health Center, all of which service areas of the city with high need, high morbidity for communicable disease and high risk for poor health outcomes.

Management and Operations of Lyons Health Center, Magnolia Health Center and Riverside Health Center will be transferred to another agency, possibly the existing Federally Qualified Health Centers that currently provide primary health care services at these facilities. HDHHS plans to provide TB and STD services at Lyons Health Center and dental services at Magnolia Health Center, depending on negotiations with the new managing agency for each site.

"We are in the middle of the toughest times Houston has experienced since the oil bust of the mid-1980s," said Mayor Parker. "Indeed, we are challenged, but our future is brighter. The signs of economic improvement we are seeing today provide assurance that the better times we yearn for are ahead. We will emerge from this downturn stronger and more financially secure. In the meantime, we will continue fighting crime, improving neighborhoods, growing our economy, creating jobs, planning for the future and saving money; we will continue reforming, streamlining, modernizing and transforming the way we do business."

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