In a marathon meeting that beat out the recent HERO fest (but not by much), Houston City Council passed $5.2 Billion dollar budget for the city’s next fiscal year It got done, but few would call it an easy process. Here’s more from Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle…
The budget was approved in a 14-3 vote that followed council members slogging through 63 amendments they and their colleagues had proposed to Parker’s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Council members interested in new programs bested those interested in controlling spending, despite ample discussion of the deficits looming in the coming years.
Parker said council’s decisions concern her, given the warnings of trouble ahead, and said some “naivete” exists around the table on budgeting.
“Council members were clearly in a mood to spend rather than save,” she said. “They see the economy, they see things are picking up. They also see a lot of needs and they want to respond to those needs, and it’s very hard to say, ‘But we have a rainy day down the road, you need to put some money aside for that.'”
The coming challenges are driven by soaring pension and debt costs and the impact of a decade-old, voter-imposed cap on city revenues that is expected to force a cut in the property tax rate next year. Houston next summer is expected to face a nearly $150 million gap between revenues and expenses in its general fund, which is fed mainly by property and sales taxes and funds basic services. That exceeds the gap during the economic recession, when Parker laid off 776 workers.
Of particular interest to see will be how District Council Members choose to use their additional $1 million dollar allotments. The funds won’t go very far if Council Members try to tackle broken streets, but may be better applied through police patrols, better lighting and increased city services.
With everyone so worried about limited funds for next year, it’s unfortunate, but not exactly a surprise that issues like the complete mess over at HPD didn’t get addressed in a substantive manner. As to whether more funding for HPD could come with a vote on the city’s revenue cap, only time will tell.