Commissioners Approve Budget

Harris County Commissioners passed a 1.23 billion dollar budget that will impact law enforcement and some services to residents. The leaner spending blueprint reflects a significant dip in the main source of revenue for the county — property taxes. Pat Hernandez has the story.

The unanimous vote by Commissioners came with little fanfare. The Court heard from County Attorney Vince Ryan and Pct-4 Constable Ron Hickman, trying to protect their dwindling revenues. They both face the loss of at least two dozen employees.

After the Commissioners Court meeting, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett was asked if he thought the budget cuts would impact public safety.

“I don’t think there’ll be a particularly noticeable impact right now. One of the policy decisions to be made in the future, and that’s what we heard a lot of people talking about, is how are the contract deputy patrols going to be handled. Some want the sheriff to do them, some want the constables to do them, some want it all combined. That’s a policy decision we’ll have to make in the coming months.”

Unlike the eight county constables who got an average budget cut of nearly eight percent, the budget for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department will increase by almost 4 and a half percent. Even so, Sheriff Adrian Garcia will still have to conduct business with 5-percent less than what he spent the previous fiscal year.

“We’re a people driven operation and so it’s gonna have an impact to us. And so, we’re gonna go back, look at our operations and see what adjustments need to be made. We do not hope, or anticipate that we’re gonna lay off any folks, but obviously the county grows every day, and so it’s gonna make it more difficult for us to have the people to effectively serve the folks that are moving into Harris County. And so, we’re gonna be working  hard every day to continue on that mission.”

Garcia says he hopes to recruit more people as reserve deputies and to help fill in any holes created by the budget shortfall.

“We’ll be looking to civilize certain operations. There’s a lot of things that are gonna be on the table that we’re gonna have to cull through, but what we will not compromise is those types of operations that are gonna be focused on fighting crime and keeping the citizens safe.”
County Judge Emmett says everyone will have to look at every budget item from here on out.

“We’re gonna have to look at a lot of the policy issues that the office of budget laid out for us earlier and, I personally would like to start next year’s budget process tomorrow, where we start looking at everything we do and we sort our way through it, so that we don’t end up at the very end like we have. And it’s been a good process for the past, but I’m not sure it fits the future.”

Judge Emmett says he may take to heart several suggestions to better prepare for future financial shortfalls, like putting out a proposed budget months in advance to encourage more input, thus lending more meaning to a mid-year budget review.

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