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The firings will continue until services improve

Harris County has only just begun to fire people.

The protective net county government weaves under 4 million people — jailing crooks, inoculating residents against disease, investigating child abuse and treating the mentally ill – would fray noticeably under spending cut plans that get a hearing later this week.

With the property tax money county government relies on to cover most of its bills plummeting, the county’s budget boss has asked each department to show what the fiscal year that starts March 1 would look like with a 10 percent cut to the overall $1.3 billion budget.

The answers have come back in grim detail: fewer checks on children who are the subject of custody disputes; the shutdown of prosecutors’ units dedicated to elder abuse, identity theft and public assistance fraud; longer pretrial waits in jail as a shrunken courts staff scrambles to catch up on a backlog of paperwork.

“Public safety is the number one priority of government. That is why government exists,” District Attorney Pat Lykos said last week. In a statement issued Monday, she said, “Further reductions in force will be devastating, delaying justice and putting the public at risk.”

I guess the public will have to get used to it, because until it demands something different, this is what it will get. If you’re not affected, or don’t know anyone who will be affected, by this, you’re a very lucky person.

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5 Comments

  1. Al Clarke says:

    The impending layoff of County employees to balance the County budget is a sad event. I am convinced that the County could better utilize it’s resources and streamline some operations to affect savings and reduce costs, but would such actions result in an across the board 10% cut in expenses? I doubt such is the case.
    However, that does not mean efforts should not be underway to better deliver services and control expenses. Anyone who has ever been to the criminal and/or civil courthouse on a weekday can walk into most courtrooms and discover that the lights are out. We constantly hear about the backlog of paperwork, the need for more courts, and the overworked judiciary, yet when we happen upon their workplace they are no where to be found.
    Each Harris County Commissioner has their own budget for roads, bridges, parks, etc. which seems odd. Would it or could it not be cheaper and more efficient to have a single department that handles all such matters? Certainly the ability to obtain more competitive bids for larger projects could be a benefit of consolidation. Also there might be fewer opportunities for allegations of bribery and misconduct like those pending against Commissioner Eversole and Mike Surface.
    There are countless other areas within County government that are ripe for review and modification that would result in the delivery of services in a cheaper and more efficient fashion. However, if such actions are underway as a part of this budget process those proposals are not being shared.
    I just think the approach being implemented is short sided in that it fails to take a close hard look at County government’s operations and consolidate or streamline where appropriate. The current approach of not considering a property tax rate increase and balancing the budget on the backs of honorable public servants is not leadership.

  2. Just a county worker says:

    I work in one of those “protective net” programs and my co-workers and I are busy – all the time. We see about a 10-15% increase in requests for services every year. Yet, we haven’t added staff in about 5 years. We haven’t seen cost of living raises in about 3 years. And – now, we’re supposed to cut. You can do the math.

    Kuff is right – if you don’t need our service or know someone who does, you are lucky. You also might assume that us government workers are lazy and don’t really help people. Just like in private industry – you might be right some of the time.

    However, in my program (sorry don’t want to say where), that isn’t the case. We are there because we care about people – some of the most vulnerable people. The only thing we can do is spread out even thinner and not be able to help all those who need it.

    Remember this: Next time you read in the paper about some vulnerable person who wasn’t protected, don’t shake your head and say “What a shame” as if there was nothing that could have been done. Something almost always could have done.

    The shame belongs to those of us who don’t all think it is important to protect the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

  3. texaschick says:

    All I can say is Wow!

    Letter From Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn to Governor Rick Perry regarding the Perry Tax Plan
    http://www.window.state.tx.us/news/60515letter.html

  4. […] expect there to be more firings and more crime, not to mention higher local taxes in many places as the state sloughs its […]

  5. Al Clarke says:

    The letter from State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn certainly predicted the shortfall Texas experiences now. It is ashame her letter did not get the review and attention it deserved at the time it was issued (2006). I suspect that, at that time, people thought it was just politics as usual since the State Comptroller had her sights set on the Governor’s mansion too.