Less Money to Function

Falling property values in Harris County mean shrinking tax collections. That is what county commissioners are facing as they consider a new operating budget. They’re trying to figure out how to cut more than 50-million from the spending blueprint. Pat Hernandez has the story.

Commissioners began their work earlier than usual after receiving the preliminary budget report last Friday. They must find a way to operate with 53-million dollars less in the coming year.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett:  “In general, it’s a pretty flat budget.”

Because it is the most expensive department, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says the sheriff’s office is one area commissioners are studying carefully.

“I for one think, when we talk about the sheriff’s department, I think rather than paying overtime, we oughta hire the people to do the job. It actually costs less, so I don’t know that you will be seeing personnel cuts. I do hope we see overtime cut, because overtimes are a lot more expensive than hiring regular people.”

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia says paying overtime must stop.

“You need to take a hard look to see if positions are justified. I mean, why pay all that overtime? Use that money to pay for new positions, so I’ll be working with the sheriff to see if he can give us some numbers, realistic numbers, of how many people he can hire fairly quickly, if we give him the okay to do that.”

Garcia says everyone must find ways to operate county government with less money.

“All commissioners precincts were cut, the same or even more than some of the departments. So, all of us are having to do the same thing. We’re not traveling out of state. We’re not filling any positions, positions that remain unfilled, and we’re doing there best we can to reduce all our costs.”

She says layoffs would happen in a worst-case scenario, but only after less critical services are scaled back or reduced. Garcia thinks the situation is temporary.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll see a change after the second quarter of this year. And if not then, for sure toward the end of the year, because there’s been a lot of infusion of dollars through the stimulus grants from Washington here. It takes a while for that to go down the pipe if you will, and then the jobs to be posted, and people to fill those spots, but it’s gonna happen. I’m optimistic.”

Commissioners adopt a final budget March 9th.