Last week, City Council members shared their proposed budget amendments to prepare for this week’s intensive meeting. A KPRC Channel 2 news video reports on the difficult budgetary choices Council members were going to have to make at the next meeting.
On Wednesday, Mayor Annise Parker met with City Council members to review and discuss the ninety-two proposed amendments for the FY2011 budget. Spending cuts included a reduction in library hours and “charging retired employees more for health care expenses,” reported the Chronicle.
Several amendments also garnered a bit of controversy, including the proposal to end the $70 monthly stipend to bilingual employees and another proposing an additional two percent cut to City Council’s budget.
In regard to cutting the City Council budget, the Chronicle reported,
City Councilman Al Hoang and others backed an effort to apply the same 2 percent budget cuts required of many city departments for fiscal 2011 to council members, who have been allocated $392,222 in the coming year to pay staff and take care of other expenses.
The proposal, which would have required a cut of nearly $8,000 per council office, was rejected by 11 council members. Only Hoang, Councilman Stephen Costello and Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck voted for the measure. The cut would have saved an estimated $110,000.
“I think it’s disingenuous to ask departments to cut their budgets, and not cut our own,” Hoang said in a statement. “We were elected to lead by example, not by decree.”
Councilwoman Jolanda Jones opposed the cuts, saying that council member budgets are used almost exclusively to pay the salaries and health care costs of staffers and should not be compared to departments that can cut spending on equipment or freeze hiring to reach budget targets.
She called the proposal an example of “form over substance.”
“If someone calls my office and I don’t have staff or resources to help them solve their problem, they’re going to be mad at me. …They’re going to be mad at the city,” she said.
Councilwoman Clutterbuck ultimately withdrew the proposal to cut the monthly bilingual employee stipend, as Mayor Parker said the program will be reviewed at a later time.
Many of the proposed amendments mirrored one another, having been submitted by different Council members. As a result, these were brought to the table simultaneously in order to save time. Council members withdrew any superfluous amendments in favor of the primary amendment at hand. Ultimately, over half of the amendments were withdrawn.
A breakdown of the results from the Council meeting follows:
Withdrawn: twenty-six amendments
Tabled: twenty-four amendments
Tabled and Referred to a Committee: seventeen amendments
Passed as substituted or amended: eleven amendments
Passed: nine amendments
Failed: five amendments
Mayor Parker’s $4.1 billion budget closed a $140 million shortfall through a combination of new fees, spending cuts and reserve funds (including the $20 million rainy day fund) while keeping the property tax the same as the previous year. Also, the Council tentatively agreed to accept the budget’s unspecified $22 million in savings meant to occur in FY2011 through “new efficiencies.”
After having spent over seven hours reviewing and voting on each amendment, City Council members voted to unanimously pass the final budget. According to the Chronicle, Councilwoman Clutterbuck, the chair of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, said “Parker and council members should feel proud of a budget ‘that is balanced in these very difficult financial times.’ She added that the budget continues to ‘deliver outstanding services to the citizens of Houston…and honors and respects the outstanding city of Houston employees that help us do that job every day.”
Related COH Budget stories:
(Photo Credit: eschipul)