The city of Houston may have $21 million more in income in the coming fiscal year than it had planned on before Wednesday. That’s when it got the news that the Harris County Appraisal District projects that taxable values in the city — and by extension, the amount of taxes it collects on that property — will rise 4.54 percent in 2012.
The city had previously assumed a rise of only about half that much.
Also this week, the city got the news that sales tax receipts for the first seven months of FY 2012 (which runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012) were up 10.66 percent from last year. If the city finishes the year up 10.5 percent, that would roughly double the increase the city had budgeted for. The bottom line would be about $26 million more than the city planned for in its $1.8 billion general fund budget.
Nice. Not enough to wipe out all concerns, but an unexpected extra $50 million or so would go a long way towards making this budget a lot easier to deal with than the last two or three. There’s good news for Harris County, too.
Harris County Commissioners Court is poised to adopt a $1.34 billion budget on Tuesday that envisions no tax increase this fall and, unlike last year, would not require layoffs.
“We are fortunate that our revenues are stable at this time,” said Chief Budget Officer Bill Jackson. “They’re not decreasing, and it looks like we’re charting our way forward on a slow recovery. Our departments were able to come in at or below budget this year. That helped our financial situation.”
The Sheriff’s Office, at 32 percent of the general fund, is by far the county’s largest department; the next-largest consumes just 5 percent, Jackson said. For only the second time in eight years, the Sheriff’s Office is projected to have finished the fiscal year within its $392.5 million budget.
Part of that success was due to the falling jail population, Jackson and Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said. The jail population stood at 8,668 Friday, down from a peak of 12,381 in September 2008.
Overtime bills in the short-staffed lockup also have fallen from $33 million two years ago to $21 million last fiscal year; the sheriff has budgeted $15 million for overtime this fiscal year.
This year’s budget may actually allow the Sheriff to hire a few people, which as we know will save some money by not having to authorize so much overtime. Good news all around.
I was amused by this:
County Judge Ed Emmett said he is glad last year’s “storm” of cutbacks seems to have passed. He praised Jackson’s proposal to allow departments that come in under budget to roll over part of their savings, allowing them to make purchases when it makes sense rather than to beat the artificial deadline of the fiscal year’s end.
Yes, well, the entire requirement that revenues and expenditures must be made to match in time for that artificial deadline is silly and makes budget-writing entities do nonsensical things in the name of “balancing” the budget. But hey, the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one, right?