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FY2011 COH Budget - Day 3

Meeting Notes - June 3, 2010

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Council member Ed Gonzales chaired today’s budget workshop meetings, which included proposal presentations from four departments, which included the Information Technology Department (ITD) at 1:30 pm, the Municipal Courts Administration Department (MCAD) starting around 2:15pm, the Municipal Courts Judicial Department (MCJ) beginning at about 3:40pm, followed by the Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department (CEF), ending the day at about 5pm.

Information Technology

Director of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Richard Lewis presented his department’s budget proposal today before City Council. Click here to view the department’s slide show presentation. The budget consists of $19M from the General Fund, with additional funds from two special funds, including the Project Cost Recovery Fund and the Central Services Revolving Fund. Several Council members noted the difficulty of understanding the abstract nature of Information Technology and all that they do, with Council member Stardig hoping for goals more resembling the SMART method, which helps to create goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Municipal Courts Administration

The largest municipal court in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States, the Houston Municipal Courts Administration Department’s Director Sahira Abdool presented MCAD’s proposed budget to City Council today, which consists of $17M from the General Fund and additional funds from two special funds, including the Building Security Fee Fund and the Technology Fee Fund.

According the MCAD’s webpage, “The purpose of the department is to function as the official court administrator and custodian to ensure compliance with all federal and state laws and ordinances while striving to provide the highest level of customer service, professional efficiency and integrity.” Made up of 296 employees, the department is split into four divisions—court operations, public services, administrative services and systems support. Director Abdool named three key goals of MCAD for FY2011: to discover innovative and productive ways to collect and generate revenues, to utilize process improvements and efficiency gains, and to increase customer self sufficiency by maintaining a customer-driven focus while making customers more self sufficient and reducing wait time. Overall, there is a six percent change from the FY2010 budget in the FY2011 and Director Abdool pointed out a primary concern, that if additional citation volume or expansion of jail dockets increases beyond projections, there is likely to be an adverse impact on services and revenue return from the MCAD.

Municipal Courts Judicial

Newly appointed Director and Presiding Judge Barbara E. Hartle presented the proposed budget for the Municipal Courts Judicial Department this afternoon. Director Hartle opened her presentation with the department’s mission, “To provide an accessible legal forum for individuals to have their court matters heard in a fair and efficient manner.” With $5.5M from the General Fund, the MCJ spends 91% of that on personnel, 3% on contract services, 4% on jury summonsing and 2% in other budget areas, such as training and travel. Goals for FY2011 include expanding weekend jail dockets, expanding homeless dockets, and starting bi-weekly jury trial dockets at the Westside Command Station, which will allow for further savings for the HPD. Additional short term goals include reviewing and updating the court processes and to continue interdepartmental/defense bar meetings. Long term goals mentioned during the presentation included efforts to decentralize court services, to set up a multi-jurisdictional jail processing center and developing a court master plan. Council member Sullivan questioned Director Hartle as to why she has yet to address an issue he had brought to her attention previously, which was to add an additional day to the Kingwood facility, as it is currently only open one day per week. Director Hartle said she would look into it further, as it is one of several items on the agenda for an upcoming meeting.

Convention and Entertainment Facilities

Director Dawn Ullrich of the Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department presented her department’s proposed budget today before City Council, which happened to be one of the shortest workshop sessions we have had so far, with only one question from City Council. Council Member Bradford asked, “How can we help you do what you need to do to further promote the City of Houston?”

The only General Fund expenditures from this department are debt services, which are about $1M in total. Most of CEF’s funds come from a special fund entitled, the Conventions and Entertainment Facilities Fund. Employing 119 people, the CEF Department, according to their website, “manages more than 10 City-owned buildings and plazas and underground and surface parking for nearly 7,000 vehicles. These facilities include the George R. Brown Convention Center, Jones Hall, Wortham Theater Center, Houston Center for the Arts, Talento Bilingue de Houston, Jones Plaza, Miller Outdoor Theatre and other smaller venues.”

(Photo Credit: eschipul)

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