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Harris County Budget: No Frills

It took some doing, but Harris County Commissioners approved a new budget that is less than the blueprint of last year. It also contains no property tax increase and no layoffs. But it does contain some painful budget decisions. Pat Hernandez has more.


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The 2010 budget for Harris County is 1.4-billion dollars. County Judge Ed EmmettIt says it cuts spending just under 4-percent from last year.

“There aren’t any layoffs. We have a hiring freeze, which I think makes sense. We have a travel policy freeze if you will,  that says there’s no out of state travel, except under special certain circumstances, and even in state travel severely curtailed. And we’re managing with what we have, which is what everybody else is doing.”

Belt tightening was the order for the Sheriff’s Department which had exceeded its spending the past three years. This year, Sheriff Adrian Garcia was told to live within a budget of 376-million dollars.

“It’s not the budget I’d like to have, but it’s the budget that we can work with, and that we will continue to be able to serve the citizens of Harris County.” 

Sheriff Adrian Garcia says it won’t be easy and will depend on the jail population here and abroad, which drives his staff and overtime.

“We need to be able to achieve a real reduction in our jail population, and that can principally come from our pre- trial services, it can come from our judges, our district attorney’s office and it can come from the sheriff’s office as well.”

Commissioners also voted to withhold the budget of the Harris CountyHospital District until CEO David Lopez returns with a more definitive operating plan.

“Our board’s trying to determine how accurate is our current plan and do we need to revise it, how do we need to adjust going forward. Given the fact that five, six years ago, there was no talk of health reform, but now there is. And what is the impact on us and secondly, how do we adjust to the changing environment, positioning ourselves for the needs of our community?”

Judge Emmett says he does have some sympathy with the hospital district and anybody in the health care industry.

“What is the reality you’re going to be dealing with, but I think our hospital district needs to go ahead and, at least in broad ways, decide what they’re gonna be. I and many other people have been saying, ‘let’s move out of the brick and mortar business, let’s get into the neighborhood clinic business much more, much more preventive care and less crisis care.’ Hopefully, that’s the direction they’ll take.”

Despite restrictions placed on the spending blueprint, county budget officer Dick Raycraft says residents should not notice a change in government services.

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