City passes its budget

It wasn’t much different than the Mayor’s original proposal.

The overall spending plan totals $4 billion, including $1.8 billion from the tax- and fee-supported general fund. The remaining $2.2 billion involves the city’s enterprise funds, such as the airport and water utilities divisions, which generate their own revenues through user fees.

Fiscal year 2012 begins July 1.

The Council considered dozens of amendments during several hours of discussion Wednesday, but adopted the mayor’s proposed budget with no substantive changes.

Mayor Annise Parker spent the spring looking for ways to close a huge budget gap caused, in part, by a decrease in tax collections and ballooning pension obligations. She balanced the budget without a tax increase.

Instead, the newly adopted budget calls for spending $100 million less than in the current fiscal year. Because the city spends most of its money on police and fire protection, those two departments took the biggest hits, but no police officers or firefighters were laid off.

Basically, this budget finalized the layoffs that we knew about, did not include any major service cuts, did not raise taxes, and did not include any borrowing or use of the reserve funds but did include some deferment of payments. As I recall, the 2011 budget wound up dipping into the reserve fund when some real estate sales that had been booked as revenue didn’t pan out in time. There’s no mention of that in this story.

As the Mayor said, until revenues from property and sales taxes recover sufficiently we’ll be in a similar position next year. Sales tax revenues have been up for the state lately, and property valuations were better than originally expected for this budget, which reduced the deficit a bit, so there’s some hope. But if it’s not enough, the question continues to be at what point do we say we can’t cut any more, we have to roll back some of the property tax rate cuts to bring in enough revenue to do the things we have to do? I’m pretty sure everyone involved is hoping things improve to the point where we don’t have to find an answer to that question. If so, then let me ask the next question: At what point do we start restoring some of the things we’ve cut? The reserve fund will need some replenishing, those deferred payments will come due, and of course the long-term pension issues remain, and all of them will be priorities. Still, I hope we’re thinking about the better-case scenario in addition to the worst-case one.

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