Faced with a dour economic climate, Mayor Bill White unveiled a $4 billion budget proposal on Tuesday that keeps the property tax rate the same and holds spending at what it was the current fiscal year.
The plan, which includes funds for one new library and the replacement of five, the expansion of recycling programs and more money for the widely criticized Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, limits operating expenses to an increase of one-half of 1 percent. That's largely due to a nearly 25 percent decline in how much the city will keep in reserve this year.
Under his budget plan, the city will hold almost $171 million in reserves, about $50 million less than the current fiscal year. If too much of the reserves were spent, the city could jeopardize its AA bond rating and end up paying higher costs for new roads or other infrastructure projects.
City Controller Annise Parker highlighted several possible pitfalls. The budget assumes the administration will find an additional $10 million in savings during the year and that Lyondell Chemical Co., which has filed for bankruptcy protection, will pay $16 million in property taxes.
The city also has not replenished the $20 million "rainy day" fund it used to cover expenses from Hurricane Ike, and has not accounted in the budget for money it may owe the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she said.
Further, the revenue estimates from her office are nearly $38 million less than those from the city finance department.
"There are a lot of 'what ifs' in this budget and ... really no margin for error."