Mayor Annise Parker, facing what she described as the toughest fiscal environment in more than 20 years, on Thursday proposed a $1.8 billion budget that calls for laying off 747 employees, closing pools and community centers and slashing other programs.
The budget eliminates city-funded sports leagues, reduces library hours and pulls the city out of three health clinics that will be turned over to nonprofit agencies already involved in running them. Eight pools and seven community centers would close this summer.
“We are clearly in the middle of the toughest times that the city has experienced since the downturn in the 1980s,” Parker said at a midday news conference. “Houston continues to be in better shape financially than most of the other big cities in America, and our local economy remains stronger and resilient. It doesn’t mean we can get through this unscathed.”
The proposal does not include any tax increases to bridge what had been a $75 million budget gap for the coming fiscal year. The budget requires City Council approval.
Parker’s plan calls for spending $100 million less in the year beginning July 1 than in the current fiscal year. The city faces a budget squeeze even after a year spent consolidating departments, raising fees and trimming payroll.
In addition to the agreement with the firefighters, the Mayor also reached an agreement with the police union to defer payments to their pension fund as a piece of the puzzle for this budget. Much like the state of Texas, the city is betting that things will improve enough to pay for these put-off payments and avoid the need for any tax increases that it has gone so far out of its way to not do. The city, by virtue of deferring less and not having a built-in deficit maker in its budget, is in a better position to win that bet, but if they don’t I don’t want to hear anyone squealing about taxes. At some point, you’ve got to pay for your obligations, including those whose costs are beyond your control. Hair Balls has more.