Almost 100 days into her administration, Houston Mayor Annise Parker delivered an update on city government to a sold-out crowd at the Hilton-Americas.
Most of her speech centered on the shortfall the city faces next fiscal year, which could be as much as $130 million. Parker told 1,500 members of the Greater Houston Partnership that Houstonians will have to make sacrifices.
"I've been quoted as saying that I'm something like a mom who's going to tell you that you have to eat your vegetables, but you may not have dessert. But the point of that story is that nobody's going to go hungry and we will get through this period."
While Parker has promised not to raise the city's property tax rate, she did acknowledge fees for essential services may go up.
"We are talking about an increase in our water rates in the City of Houston. I want to be clear, that doesn't help us balance the budget. That gives us a healthy water system that will help us be competitive in the future."
In addition to balancing the city's budget, Parker says retaining jobs will be a high priority. She promised to use the Hire Houston First policy for city contracts, which gives preference to local companies.
In remarks after the event, Parker told reporters it's better to keep the jobs you have, than worry about creating new ones.
"Every other big city in America has dealt with this issue. Most of them have laid off a significant number of employees and already started furloughs. We have been able to manage to the current situation and we're going to do that as long as we can before we take those much more drastic steps. I don't know of any city out there that has a Neiman's budget. The fact that we have a Marshall's budget is better than a dollar store budget."
Though the overall message was somber, Parker tried to weave a reassuring theme into her speech — saying the city must modernize and improve services and welcome imagination and new ideas.