City of Houston

City of Houston asking residents for feedback on new budget style

The city currently operates on an incremental budget and will switch to an outcome-based budget to ensure funds are being allocated to programs and services that have the biggest impacts. 

Houston City Hall Legacy Room
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media

Houstonians can provide feedback on a new budgeting style that the City of Houston is transitioning to for fiscal year 2024. The city currently operates on an incremental budget and will switch to an outcome-based budget to ensure funds are being allocated to programs and services that have the biggest impacts.

"Incremental budgeting is essentially you start with what you had last year and either you add to it or take away from it," Finance Director Will Jones said. "Outcome-based budgeting, essentially you're trying to align the resources with the expected results."

Residents can access the survey through the city's website where they're able to rate on a scale of one through five, of how important are some of the Mayor's top priorities to them as residents. Jones said it was important to get residents’ input.

"We work for the citizens and they have services that they expect to happen, their tax dollars. It’s important that they know where their tax dollars are going, and that they have a voice in that process," he said.

Jones used building inspections as an example of how outcome-based budgeting would work for the city.

Building inspections are utilized across many city departments like Houston Public Works, the fire department, and the Department of Neighborhoods.

Currently each department performs their own version of building inspections. But under outcome-based budgeting, the city would have to conduct inventory to see how much the departments are spending to conduct their own building inspections. Based on the findings, the city would adjust the funding based on the needs.

"While we capture all of that, we don’t really get to see as an overall citywide program – what is actually going towards building inspection and you can see it across funds," he said.

For a big city like Houston that operates on a billion-dollar budget, Jones said it will take some years to fully transition to the new outcome-based budget.

"Being the fourth largest city, it is a challenge," he said. "And that’s why I say we’re laying the groundwork for this upcoming budget cycle, there’s not going to be the first year we do it, we’re going to be 100%, ready to go – we still have to look at the type of technology we need to measure these things, so we’re trying to take it in steps."

Jones said for the 2024 budget, the city will focus on identifying programs within the city, expected goals of the programs, and start preparing to get key metrics and performance of city programs.

City leaders will take input on the new budgeting style at least through the end of December to see what are top priorities for Houston residents. Opportunities will also be given to residents to speak at the city's budget workshops as the city enters their budget season in January.