Harris County’s Office of Management and Budget has released its proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Proponents are hoping to make up lost ground from last year, after a fight that forced the county back on an austerity budget with no-new-revenue tax rates.
The county's Fiscal Year 2024 proposal for the General Fund comes in at $2.395 billion. By comparison, Budget Director Daniel Ramos said, "Our overall budget's going to be about $267 million more than what ended up getting adopted (last year)."
Much of the increase incorporates extra appropriations the county has made for the Harris County Jail and Harris County District Attorney's Office since last fall.
"The county's eating a lot of costs that we had planned for, had put in the Fiscal Year ‘23 budget, and are having to build those back in into the Fiscal Year '24," Ramos said.
Last year, Republican County Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey boycotted Commissioners Court meetings for nearly two months, denying Democratic members the necessary quorum to pass their desired tax rates. Cagle subsequently lost his reelection bid, giving Democrats a supermajority on the court and making a repeat of last year's budget fight unlikely.
One of the triggers for the fight was Cagle and Ramsey's allegation that Democratic members had cut funding for law enforcement. Nearly two-thirds of the proposed FY ‘24 budget, $1.518 billion, would go towards justice and safety.
The budget will also include about $57 million to pay for cost of living increases for county employees. He says county wages have fallen relative to neighboring jurisdictions in recent years.
"In that three-and-a-half fiscal years," Ramos said, "civilian employees' salaries only went up 2.2%, where there are jurisdictions that gave 5% in a single year during that time period."
Ramos will present the budget proposal to Harris County commissioners on August 22 for discussion, and the commissioners are expected to vote on the budget on September 19. FY '24 begins October 1 and runs through September 30, 2024.