It’s getting a little better, but we’re still not close to being in good times.
The city of Houston’s budget deficit for the coming fiscal year has been whittled to roughly $80 million from $130 million, Mayor Annise Parker said after her annual State of the City address on Friday.
Parker, speaking at a Greater Houston Partnership luncheon at the Hilton Americas Hotel downtown, warned of looming budget cuts while also touting efficiencies found and tasks completed in her 15 months in office.
The city still will face widespread layoffs, Parker said, but some programs that had been at risk will be kept, such as the Houston Police Department’s mounted patrol and K-9 divisions.
“A tight budget is a little like a corset — it holds some things in and it emphasizes other things,” Parker said, drawing chuckles. “This tight budget is going to have a good long-term impact on the city. … We’re down 500 employees since I took office, not because we couldn’t afford to pay them but because we found a better way of doing business.”
She cited the consolidations of the city’s human resources, payroll, fleet management and information technology departments and the use of Metro police rather than HPD officers to dispatch tow trucks to clear accidents.
“These are permanent changes that make sense,” she said.
You can read the full speech here. It touches on many subjects – Demolition Day (there’s one coming up in May), Rebuild Houston, Dynamo Stadium, sustainability, Hire Houston First, and on and on – but one that that wasn’t mentioned was the pension issue, other than to note that we won’t be doing more pension bonds. I guess since there are negotiations going on with the police and fire departments, this might have been too sensitive a topic. One thing that made me smile was this, from her look ahead at Houston five years from now:
We see advances in our use of technology. Just imagine taking a photo with your PDA, sending it to our public works department and receiving automatic acknowledgment and a work order number.
One more thing, from the story:
The $50 million decrease in the budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is due primarily to $16 million more in projected tax revenues, $13 million in savings from a new employee health care contract, $7 million in property sales and the movement of $7.6 million in utility debt service that will now be paid from utility revenues instead of the general fund, Finance Director Kelly Dowe said.
I don’t know what the formula is that’s being used to project future revenues, but it’s certainly possible that the economy will exceed expectations, with revenues doing better as well. Lord knows there’s plenty of people in Austin hoping for higher sales tax receipts than what they’re currently using for their budget. I also don’t know if the property sales include things like this or not. Point being, with a bit of luck the situation could be less dire by the time the city actually needs to finalize its budget. Here’s hoping for that.