City Council finalizes $1.828 billion budget
HOUSTON City budgets used to go up each year, but the recession ended that upward curve. All year, the city has been paring cost and jobs to prepare for this new fiscal year and today it became official. At the eleventh hour, an appetizer to budget approval were dozens of last-minute proposed amendments. For example, talk of city incentives to entice businesses to town. That became a platform for talk of food deserts in low-income areas. "Perhaps you should go to those places and ask yourself if you would feed that food to your family, your grandchildren and your children," said Houston City Council Member Jolanda Jones. But the most contentious request was raising budgets for City Council offices. It was Council Member Wanda Adam's proposal. "It's just a recommendation," said Adams. And it went nowhere. After five hours of debate came the main course: Houston's general fund budget for the new fiscal year. The city finalized an $1.828 billion budget, that's about $90 million less than the current budget. It's a decrease accomplished through some service cuts, employee group concessions and 747 layoffs. Only two votes were cast against it -- Council Members Anne Clutterbuck and Mike Sullivan. "I am a limited government person. I want to spend what we need to do to provide basic city services and no more," said Sullivan. It's a balanced budget with no property tax increase. Houston's city government has fared better than other large cities. "We are dependent on what happens nationally and until hiring picks up -- which drives sales tax, which will drive our property values and everything else -- we are not out of the woods," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. So now it is back to work with less. The furlough program, which had trimmed hours from city employees' paychecks, ends this month.