Still Crunching the Numbers

Harris County has been spared the worst of the economic downturn, but it is still affecting how one of the largest local governments in the country operates, including who it hires. Pat Hernandez has more.


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Harris County Commissioners continue to try and find ways to trim expenses in light of a budget shortfall. In addition to an across-the-board hiring freeze, County Judge Ed Emmett says they’re relying on the financial wisdom of budget officer Dick Raycraft.

“I think the court has made it clear that they’re willing to give Dr. Raycraft time ’til the mid-year review to come back and tell us exactly where we are. And so, the will of the court right now seems to be to keep that hiring freeze in place until we get to mid-year, and then see what the numbers look like then.”

The largest single item on the county budget is the Sheriff’s Department, which operates the county jail. It accumulates about $30 million dollars a year in overtime. Emmett says there are challenges with a hiring freeze.

“The idea of just doing a hiring freeze, sometimes costs you more money than you save because you end up either having to hire temporary people or give overtime to people, or you end up with a huge back load of comp time, and I think to just arbitrarily say ‘Well, we’re just gonna do a hiring freeze and that’s gonna just take care of everything’…no, I don’t think that’s accurate.”

He says every officeholder in Harris County has to make some tough decisions.

“Maybe it is, you have to cut your budget ten percent or, yes we’re gonna let you hire that person, but we’re gonna tell you you have to do away with car allowances, or something. We have to start making those decisions instead of just letting it drip.”

Emmett says everyone is eyeing the mid-year review in September that will allow them to make those decisions.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF News.

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