Pools and Community Centers Come Under Parker's Budget Ax
Eight swimming pools and seven community centers won't open this summer and about 750 city employees will be laid off under the new budget proposed by Mayor Annise Parker today.
The fire and police departments avoided layoffs.
"Developing this budget has not been without difficulty, challenges and some very painful decisions," Parker said. "Clearly we all believe that the long-term forecast for this city and this region is going to be positive and we believe sooner rather than later, but we're not there yet."
Parker said that maintaining the commitment to public safety was one of the greatest challenges in the budget process.
Yesterday, the Houston Police Officers' Union and Pension System agreed to a deal that averted layoffs of civilian jailers who would have had to be replaced by officers. Another negotiated deal with the Houston Professional Fire Fighters' Association still requires ratification on behalf of Houston firefighters and the Houston City Council.
"While the agreement doesn't give us any permanent fixes on the contract or the budget, it gives us some breathing space and more negotiating time," Parker said. "And I appreciate them inking that deal and I hope that the firefighters ratify that so that I can take that deal to council."
The Parks and Recreations department will close the eight swimming pools and seven community centers due to low service or renovations, she said. The swimming pools and community centers will also close due to their close proximity to similar facilities.
Parker said departmental offerings such as Youth Tennis, Summer Food Service Program and summer enrichment camps will continue at the open locations with grant assistance despite the recent closures of other public facilities.
Funding for city youth sports leagues will be eliminated. While the city will provide the necessary facilities, the personnel and organization will rely upon grant funding. Youth sports organizations such as Youth Baseball will remain active with the assistance of the Houston Astros.
Parker said the city sports facilities will suffer reduced maintanance spending, but the commitment to providing a safe play environment will remain a priority.
The city of Houston will not close any health clinics despite that department receiving the deepest budget cuts.
Parker said the Health Department will consolidate most health facilities with Casa De Amigos, Northside, Sharpstown and Sunnyside.
The nonprofit centers will witness more participation from their respective organizations. The management of Lions, Magnolia and Riverside Health Centers will transition to other organizations.
Parker said the Health Department will offer tuberculosis and STD treatment at Lions Health Center and dental services at Magnolia Health Center as those services are not provided by Houston Health Department partners.
"We are clearly in the middle of the toughest times the city has experienced since the downturn in the 1980s," Parker said. "We understand that this is a nationwide and in fact a worldwide recession and Houston continues to be in better shape financially than other big cities in America and our local economy remains stronger."