Harris County must bring its spending down to $1.2-billion for the year that begins on March 1st because of declining property taxes. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says it could be worse.
"Our revenue, by any traditional definition, really isn't down that much. It's down three percent or so. But the fact that we don't have a carry over from a reserve fund — and in years past we've been able to count that as revenue. We don't have that this year."
Appraisals county wide are down almost 3-percent, which means tax revenue is down a similar amount. Budget director Dick Raycraft recommended department heads slash expenditures by at least ten percent. That means a reduction or delay in services, reduced hours at public buildings, and even layoffs and furloughs. Law enforcement has been trying hard not to let the budget director's recommendation affect service to their community. This is Pct-7 Constable Mae Walker:
"My allocation is gonna be ten percent, so therefore, I'm gonna have to go back and do some more cutting. But I'm going to try not to cut any more of my deputies. I'm gonna stick with the 32 hours a week, but I'm gonna have to cut some of my repair parts from vehicles, and a whole bunch of the non-budget items."
But Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is the bucking the fiscal trend. His operating budget has gone up 6-percent.
"For the sheriff's office, I would like to see a realistic budget, and I think that the numbers that Dr. Raycraft has proposed to my office is encouraging. But obviously, we would like to have more rather than less, but it's encouraging with where we're at at this particular point."
County Judge Emmett says he hopes to lift a hiring freeze that was put in place last year, to fill needed positions. But a vital and significant money drain is the contract deputy program:
"Commissioners feel pretty strongly about it, as you could tell one way or the other. I think there does have to be a meeting of the minds if you will, and management services, and the constables and the sheriff, and whichever Commissioners want to get involved, and decide where we're going forward. It was referenced that some years ago, obviously before I was here, there was a tax increase, and it was dedicated to increasing pay for law enforcement."
Emmett says such an increase was just a suggestion. He says the greater need is to prioritize spending. Commissioners will approve the new budget March 8th.