May 21, 2004
Mayor White's first budget

Not so bad, all things considered.

The spending plan he released Thursday includes an increase of more than $47 million for the Police Department and $9 million for the Fire Department in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But even as more tax dollars are being pumped into public safety, more than 300 civilian employees in the Police Department face layoffs and workers in other departments are preparing to do more with less.

That isn't all bad, however, according to some.

"We are optimistic. We believe, (through) this exercise, we have developed ways to cut costs and streamline operations," said Issa Dadoush, director of the Building Services Department. "We defined the true number of employees needed to run this department."


Even with its austerity moves, White's $1.454 billion general fund budget represents a 3.3 percent increase from this year's budget.

And while some departments are getting fewer dollars, the budgeted numbers don't tell the whole story.

The Parks and Recreation Department, for instance, is receiving about $1.6 million less in the coming fiscal year than was budgeted for this year.

But because of cutbacks made throughout the year, the department actually spent about $6 million less than was budgeted.

"We are really very happy with the way it looks as of right now," said department spokeswoman Marene Gustin. "I don't think the average taxpayer will see any difference in park services. I would hope they might actually see an increase in the level of maintenance of parks properties."

We'll see how the Council reacts. For now, I'll note that an earlier Chron story (which, typically, I can no longer find - I wish I had some idea how their algorithm to move stuff into archives worked) reported that part of the increased spending came from expected growth in tax receipts. While I do expect economic conditions to finally start to improve around here, I just hope that the Mayor hasn't fallen prey to Perry/Strayhorn disease.

This is a bit harder to fathom.

Mayor Bill White said Thursday he will ask the state Legislature - in a special session if another is called - to draft a constitutional amendment that would let City Council reduce the state's 10 percent limit on annual increases in the taxable value of Houston Homes.

Gov. Rick Perry wants a 3 percent cap statewide on appraisal values, and local elected officials, including state Rep. Martha Wong and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, have proposed a 5 percent limit. White got on the bandwagon Wednesday, calling for a 7 percent cap.

"I'd like to get as much property tax relief as we can afford while meeting our obligations and not compromising public services," White said Thursday. "I think taking it from 10 percent to 7 percent is a good first step."

White said it is "wrong for the constitution to tie our hands to give property tax relief to the citizens."

"I don't think that the state should be telling municipalities what to do. I think we should have the local option to reduce our property taxes as the citizens of this community see fit," he said.

I don't want to debate the merits of a 10% cap versus some other cap - you all already know my feelings about property taxes. I'm just trying to figure out how you square those last two sentences with a request for an amendment to reduce the cap rate. And it ain't gonna happen for me on a Friday afternoon.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 21, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack

I think I must be misunderstanding this tax cap thing.

As best I understand, the Texas Constitution says: "You can't raise the taxable value of a home more than 10% a year".

And Perry wants to drop it to "No more than 3% a year" and others have chimed in with "5% or 7% a year, tops".

Then White pushes for a reduction to a "7% a year" from "10% a year" and states "It's wrong for the constitution to tie our hands to give property tax relief".

I'm missing something. As best I can tell, that limits the maximum increase to 10%. Couldn't a municipality decide, on it's own, to personally cap it at 5%? Or hell, decide to drop it by 5% for everyone?

I don't see how this ties anyone's hands for "tax relief". Sure, it prevents cities from jacking up appraised values by a ton....but it doesn't seem to require you to raise values tat much, or prevent you from cutting them.

I'm just confused here.

Oh wait. That's what you were talking about. I should have read the whole post. I just read the quote and was trying to figure out what the hell he meant.

Confusing, eh? Maybe it's one of those "kerry voted against this ten times/really an omnibus defense appropriation a decade ago" sort of deals...

Posted by: Morat on May 21, 2004 2:39 PM