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Mayor Parker’s first budget

It sounds good, and she kept her promises about not raising the property tax rate, at least for this year, but there are some blanks that still need to be filled in.

Mayor Annise Parker unveiled a $4.1 billion spending plan Tuesday, balancing the city’s budget largely through a one-time draw of surplus funds, land sales, fee increases and spending cuts she insisted would have a minimal impact on Houstonians.

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City Controller Ronald Green sounded a more cautious note, pointing out that the budget has been balanced by anticipated cuts of more than $22 million and about $40 million in land sales that have yet to be realized.

City officials said the $22 million will come from what they termed “efficiencies” in how Houston manages its fleet of more than 12,000 vehicles, as well as consolidation of some employee functions. Where departments or employee functions are combined, city positions may be cut, which could result in some layoffs, Parker said.

Green said there should be a “question mark” next to the $22 million in cuts.

“How they realize those savings has yet to be seen,” the controller said. “The administration’s definitely going to have to make some tough choices along the way.”

I presume that the details about the land sales and the $22 million in cuts will come out as Council discusses and amends the budget. Given the fuss over the sale of Lakewood Church, I’d be a little concerned that some of those land sales may run into some resistance. I like the general shape of this budget, which is doing an awful lot under some fairly constrained circumstances, but it’s not at the finish line yet. And I daresay we all agree that unless sales and property tax revenues go back up again, the choices next year will be a lot less palatable. A press release from the Mayor’s office about the budget is beneath the fold.

Mayor Annise Parker today released a $4.12 billion proposed city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2010.  The taxpayer supported General Fund expenditure portion of the proposal is $124 million below the adopted FY 2010 budget and represents the lowest spending plan since 2008.  It is balanced without a property tax increase or the use of Pension Obligation Bonds, a form of debt that has been used to bridge budget gaps.  It includes several management efficiencies that will cut costs and save taxpayers approximately $22 million.  It does not include furloughs or mass layoffs and meets the city’s contractual obligations to the city’s three employee groups while still reducing discretionary departmental spending.

“This budget continues my commitment to fiscal discipline,” said Parker.  “It is a pay-as-you-go plan. I do not want to rely on debt to cover our everyday expenses.  The budget also requires that we restructure how we do business.  I want the most efficient and effective operation possible.  It helps our bottom line, saves taxpayer dollars and improves the delivery of city services.”

Context:

  • Projected decrease in anticipated property tax revenues of $45.1 million, a 5.06 percent decline
  • Projected increase in sales tax revenues of $13.8 million, 2.99 percent more than FY 2010

General Fund highlights:

  • No increase in the property tax rate of 63.875 cents
  • Review of all fees for service to achieve total cost of service recovery
  • Maintains the preferred 7.5 percent undesignated reserve, which protects our bond rating
  • $22 million in management efficiencies
  • $24.4 million in decreased discretionary spending
  • Two police cadet classes, which will add 140 officers, increasing the force to 5,195 officers
  • Three fire cadet classes, adding 126 new firefighters
  • Meets all contractual obligations to employee unions
  • Covers contractual increase in health benefits costs in the amount of $6.8 million
  • Continues infrastructure and maintenance programs

In presenting the proposed budget, Mayor Parker stressed that the city remains in sound financial condition.  She pledged to continue planning ahead by developing a draft budget for FY 2012 by September so the city will have a road map to be used for improvement of efficiencies and be prepared for any contingencies.  She will also continue to overhaul the pension and other post employment benefits structure.

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  1. […] deed is done. We know the basic shape of the budget from earlier stories, so I just want to highlight a couple of things. First, an […]