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FY2011 COH Budget - Day 6

Meeting Notes - June 10, 2010

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On June 10th, five budget workshop meetings were held at City Hall. The City departments involved were Fire, Legal, Parks and Recreation, General Services and City Council.

Fire

Chief John R. (Rick) Flanagan presented the proposed $441M budget of the City of Houston’s Fire Department before City Council. According to its budget proposal, “The Fire Department’s primary mission is to protect the lives and property of the citizens of Houston. This is accomplished through the delivery of emergency medical services, fire suppression operations and fire prevention through inspections and public education. Additionally, through the special operations division, the Fire Department provides emergency response services for hazardous materials, technical rescue, aircraft fire fighting and rescue incidents at our airports.”

The Houston Fire Department is organized into four principal sections: operations, planning, logistics and finance. For FY2011, funding for contractual obligations from the classified collective bargaining agreement, including base salary and fringe benefits will increase by $13M effective July 2010 and January 2011. There will be three new classes of cadets in the coming fiscal year, one fast track and two regular with 30, 55, and 40 cadets per class, respectively. Of the total budget, about $413.9M goes toward personnel services, with $226.3M of that going toward the salary base pay of classified personnel.

Council Member Bradford applauded the increasing trend in labor costs, as this means the City is finally stepping up to contractual obligations to meet state and federal levels.

Legal

David Feldman, the City Attorney, presented the FY2011 budget proposal to City Council. The central duties of the Legal Department include the preparation of City ordinances and resolutions, research and drafting of legal opinions, preparation of contracts, bond issue representation, deed restriction enforcement, support for the dangerous building demolition project, utility regulation, collection of revenue on past due accounts, claims resolution, personnel actions, prosecution of violators of City ordinances, and representing the City in commercial and employment litigation.

Feldman has big ideas for improving the City’s legal department in FY2011. He envisions the legal department at the City of Houston to be a self-sufficient law firm, and aims to better train staff members and have a more responsive and aggressive department overall.

The department’s budget proposal includes their mission statement.

The mission of the Legal Department is to provide the City of Houston with the highest quality legal services, facilitate the operations of the City and protect its interests. The Department is organized into eleven (General Fund) divisions to accomplish this mission: Staff Administration, Business Litigation, General Counsel, Criminal Law, Labor Law, Real Estate, Land Use, Neighborhood Service, Contracts, Public Works & Engineering Legal Administration, and Governmental Regulations.

The work of the Legal Department is funded primarily from the General Fund (about $17M) and the Property and Casualty Revolving Fund ($21M). Additionally, some legal services related to workers compensation benefits are funded out of the Workers Compensation Administration Fund (about $400K).

According to Feldman, the department will actually find a few benefits resulting from the current economic climate. The department now has the opportunity to hire lawyers that previously would not have worked for the salary offered by the City, and outside firms are now offering the department partnerships for additional pro-bono services. 

The City’s Legal Department is also transitioning their law library to be more web-based to save both space and money. They plan to replace printed subscriptions with ones available through Internet Databases such as Westlaw for research purposes.

Parks and Recreation

Director Joe Turner presented the $65.4M budget proposed for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD). The department stewards over 360 parks, which offer a variety of amenities including swimming pools, community centers, tennis and basketball courts, fitness centers, golf courses, walking/jogging trails, skate parks, dog parks, and nature areas. Click here to view the department’s budgetary presentation (PDF format).

HPARD’s mission and goals, shown below, are stated in their budget proposal.

To enhance the quality of urban life by providing safe and well maintained parks and offering affordable programs for the community.

Short-Term Goals
-Complete Connectivity in the Community Centers.
-Involvement of the department in the City’s Wellness Program.
-Continue offering activities/programs at Lake Houston Wilderness Park.
-Continue partnering with other city departments to offer additional programs to our citizens.

Long-Term Goals
-Continue to acquire and develop park land.
-Connectivity of trails in our trail system.
-Search for additional grants to supplement funding for programs offered at the Community Centers, Adaptive Recreation Center, and Lake Houston Wilderness Park.
-Continue expansion of our naturalized medians.
-Continue to follow NRPA standards so that the department may stay in compliance with accreditation mandates.

HPARD’s work is funded from the General Fund ($65M) and from the Parks Special Revenue Fund ($8.4M). For FY2011, HPARD aims to continue offering great summer programs to city youths including but not limited to: free swimming, the basics of tennis and golf, baseball, football and basketball leagues, and nature trips to Lake Houston Wilderness Park. HPARD will continue to partner with other city departments such as Library, Health, Planning, PW&E, and Convention and Entertainment, to offer the best family experience that the City has to offer.

General Services

Director Bob Christy presented the proposed $48.2M budget for Houston’s General Services Department, which serves other city departments. It designs and constructs city facilities and manages energy, fuel, estate, and security for city properties.  According to their budget proposal, “GSD supports the core functions of other city departments by building and operating facilities that are attractive, clean and secure. “

The Mission Statement of GSD, given in their budget report, is stated below.

To provide the citizens of Houston, Texas, with municipal facilities of which they can be proud, creating environments that meet the needs of those who use them, and are motivating for those who work in them. We accept our responsibility to our clients, to provide comprehensive, integrated services to design, construct and manage attractive, clean, environmentally safe, secure, and well-maintained facilities. We endeavor to be a comprehensive municipal facilities provider, nationally acclaimed for professionally responsible, client-orientated services. At the forefront of this commitment is our motto: Pursuing Customer Satisfaction…Always Responsive.

To meet the mandated three percent General Fund budget cut, GSD made cuts in security, maintenance, and grounds keeping costs.  GSD also reduced their Central Service Revolving Fund budget by $11M. Director Christy reported that he thought GSD was able to find a good balance between making necessary budget cuts and maintaining a high level of quality service.

Overall, GSD’s work is funded by four separate funds. In addition to the $48M from the General Fund, there are three Revolving Funds from which GSD receives funding, including the Central Service Revolving Fund ($187M), the In-House Renovation Fund ($3M), and the Project Cost Recovery Fund ($2.8M).

City Council

The budget proposed for the Administrative Offices of The Houston City Council is rather small compared to other City departments. The proposal states:

The Houston City Council serves as the legislative body with power to enact all ordinance and resolutions. The Members of Council jointly determine policy and initiate legislation. The City Council convenes twice weekly to administer duties set forth by the City Charter.

There are fourteen Council Members who represent nine geographical districts and five at-large positions. The Council Members respond to several thousand constituents’ calls and letters weekly, hold community meetings, and attend civic organization meetings. The Administrative Office of City Council provides the administrative support function for City Council.

The City Council’s proposed budget is solely funded by the General Fund ($5.4M) and is split evenly between the fourteen Council Members’ Offices ($392,222.00 for each office).


(Photo Credit: eschipul)

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