It’s about what you’d expect.
Facing an 11.3 percent drop in revenue, Harris County Commissioners Court passed a budget today that could mean dozens of law enforcement jobs cut or left vacant, hundreds fewer patients receiving mental health counseling and fewer books in county libraries.
The $1.23 billion budget reflects a revenue drop of $156.8 million from last year as property taxes, the main source of revenue for the county, have fallen in the wake of the recession that has eroded property values. Spending in the fiscal year that ended Feb. 28 was $1.35 billion.
The budget passed unanimously, with little comment from the court.
Only County Attorney Vince Ryan and Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman spoke about the need to protect their revenues before the vote.
Ryan said his office now is representing the county in almost 600 cases, with more than $50 million at stake. His staffers, he said, work for an average hourly rate a fourth or less what outside counsel would cost.
“Further reductions in our staff will impair our ability to serve you and the people of Harris County,” Ryan said.
“I think it’s going to be a very interesting 12 months,” [County Judge Ed] Emmett said. “We’re going to have to get a handle on the new reality and the new reality is we’re not going to have this ever-increasing revenue stream. I personally would like to start next year’s budget process tomorrow.”
I just wonder when we’ll reach the point where we say we can’t cut any more without affecting the things we really need to do. I’m sure the next 12 months will include a lot of debate about just what it is we do need to do. I certainly agree it will be an interesting year, but I have many concerns about the way that discussion is going to go.