On Wednesday, City Council unanimously approved Mayor Sylvester Turner's $2.3 billion budget for the 2017 fiscal year, a month ahead of schedule — something Turner was hoping would signal to the credit rating agencies that he isn't messing around.
Turner had faced a $160 million budget shortfall, caused by the city's debt owing to massive pension costs, the oil and gas slump and the city's revenue cap, Turner has said. The huge deficit, only the second in 20 years, led to fears that he would end up laying off hundreds of people, which is what happened the last time the city endured a major budget cut, in 2008 during the Great Recession. Turner, however, budgeted to lay off only roughly 40 people and eliminate 54 vacant positions. He plans to spend $82 million less in the coming fiscal year — mostly affecting capital improvement — than the city has spent in fiscal year 2016, and has made room for the city's economic development zones to pay $19.6 million more into the general fund.
“Passage of this budget sends a strong message to the credit rating agencies about the importance we are placing on city finances,” Turner said in a statement. “This was accomplished not by putting hundreds of hardworking city employees in the unemployment line or by cutting critical services that Houstonians rely on and deserve. Instead, it was done via shared sacrifice and laser-fine attention to fiscal management.”
Turner will not be cutting any services at all from libraries or parks, saying that they had been hit too hard in the past and he wasn't willing to do it again. Police and firefighters are also immune to layoffs (though the city could not immediately answer what departments, or positions, will be affected; a spokeswoman said the city expects the layoffs will happen through attrition). HPD, actually, is one department that will see more resources this year: Turner made room in the budget for an additional five cadet classes in order to start putting more police officers on patrol (and he's also made some controversial cuts to investigative police units in order to do so, as well).
The only substantial amendment to Turner's budget proposal made during City Council's unusually brief meeting, as the Houston Chronicle reported, was allowing city council members more service funds to spend in their individual districts. He had originally planned to chop their beloved $1 million individual funds down to $250,000 each, but decided to give each of them $500,000 more, or $750,000 apiece. Since the money came out of Metro's budget and was supposed to be used for infrastructure repairs, city council members will only be allowed to use it for that purpose. According to the Chron, Turner said that he approved the amendment because it will allow city council members to more easily help their constituents take care of pesky minor repairs.
In other words, feel free to hit up your respective city council rep for things like fixing sidewalks, installing speed bumps where people are driving too fast, or paving pot hole-y roads.
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