Mayor Sylvester Turner at a Tuesday morning press conference revealed details of his proposed $5.1 billion city budget for the 2022 fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021, at the same time saying he will amend it by next week to include raises for the city's firefighters and to address illegal dumping.
The budget is an increase of $227.96 million or 4.7 percent compared to the 2021 budget and a proposed increase in General Fund expenditures is needed to provide funds for the COVID-19 costs that this past year were covered by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020. Turner's budget must be approved in a city council vote scheduled for June.
Turner said the budget, which comes without severe cuts or a call for layoffs, would not have been possible without incoming funds from the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Biden on March 11 in the amount of $607.8 million (the city had anticipated receiving $615 million) which the city will receive in two batches — the first half in 2021 and the second in 2022. Additionally, the city have the flexibility to use the money through December 2024.
He cautioned that COVID's effects on the economy are far from over. In his letter to the people of Houston, Turner said, "The City of Houston faces record revenue loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In FY 2020, FY 2021 and a portion of FY 2022 alone, we are estimating $178 million in cumulative revenue losses.
"Sales tax is one of our hardest-hit sources with an expected $113 million cumulative loss for those fiscal years. Additionally we are projecting $65 million in revenue losses from other sources such as Charges for Services, Parking Revenues, Mixed Beverage Tax, and others.
"This loss of revenue with our existing property tax revenue cap combine to create a $201 million budget shortfall in the General Fund — the city's largest deficit in recent history." He went on to say that because of the property tax revenue cap approved by city voters in 2004, that the city has lost $1.18 billion it would have otherwise been entitled to since 2015.
The city is returning $20 million to the Budget Stabilization Fund just in time for hurricane season which begins on June 1. The money is used to immediately respond to local residents' needs in the case of natural disasters such as flooding, tropical storms, hurricanes and as was the case in February: severe winter storms.
What was clear from what Turner said is that while the firefighters will be getting raises of some sort, they probably will not be at their requested level, as Turner referred to it as "a pay raise that the city can afford." He also said that after the federal supplement money is gone, this will be difficult to maintain. "This will cover the next three years but it is in year four, five and six that the city will be challenged."
Turner also spoke of the problems in the Solid Waste department which has been overwhelmed by people cleaning up after Winter Storm Uri. He also said the city has had difficulties hiring truck drivers for the department and his administration is looking at ways to make that job more appealing to applicants.
The mayor said he would call a press conference next week to discuss the proposed firefighter raises and any other budget changes he proposes to make.