InsideOut at City Hall: What’s in Your Wallet?
Despite economic challenges, Houston’s city budget remains strong.
By Annise Parker
If you swim at your neighborhood park pool, glance through summer Parks Department programs, or call 911, you probably won’t notice much change in city programs.
Although the recession is squeezing the city budget and forcing us to dip deeply into savings, core city services are virtually the same as last year, and some have even been expanded.
The mayor’s $1.9 billion general fund budget, which City Council approved June 17, maintains important city services at current levels. To accomplish this while paying for rising fixed expenses—such as health insurance, pensions, and raises required by employee contracts—city departments cut budgets by about two percent. They will also wait as long as possible to fill vacancies, if they are filled at all. For the first time in several years, the city did not cut the tax rate by a quarter point.
• HIV/AIDS Prevention. $100,000 more for city efforts.
• Multi-Service Center Health Clinics. $100,000 more.
• Multi-Service Center and Library. The new Vinson Library, which opens in October, and adjoining HPL Express are part of the new South Post Oak Multi-Service Center, located just a few blocks from the current Vinson Library.
• Youth Jobs. The city will seek federal funds for a youth employment program to start after the popular (but filled) summer program ends.
• Water Meters. Council allocated more funds to repair the backlog of damaged meters and study converting to new smart meters, which read meters electronically.
• BARC. About $600,000 more for spaying and neutering, additional staff and adoption promotion. Look for announcements of low-cost and free spay and neutering. Check first at SNAP (Spay-Neuter Assistance Program) at snapus.org.
• Lake Houston Wilderness Park. Improvements continue at the city’s newest park, a 5,000-acre gift from the state. It offers hiking, biking, nature center, cabins, canoeing (bring your own), camping, birding, and special programs. $3 admission. For more information, call 281/354-6881 or see www.houstontx.gov/parks/lakehoustonpark.html.
• Two New Dog Parks. TC Jester dog park has opened, and Tanglewood dog park is expected to open soon. They will join Levy, Chew, and Maxey dog parks (not counting county dog parks).
• After-School Programs. The city will contribute $50,000 more. Two new neighborhood depositories. Like the other four depositories, the two new ones opening in February 2010 will accept junk waste, up to 10 vehicle tires and recyclables. They will be located at 9003 N. Main and 11003 Southwest Freeway. For more information, see houstontx.gov/solidwaste/kirkpatrick.html.
• African-American Library. The new African-American Library at historic Gregory School in Freedmen’s Town is expected to open in November. The city’s first school for African Americans has been restored and converted into an African-American archival library with special collections and exhibits.
• Bracewell. The library will relocate to 9002 Kingspoint Dr. with a new 12,000-square-foot facility in January 2010.
• Oak Forest. The library, located at 43rd at Oak Forest, will be renovated and expanded by December 2010.
• Julia Ideson. The historic library next to the central library is being expanded to include a new archival wing. It will open in February 2010.
• Kendall. The library will relocate to 609 North Eldridge Parkway next to the new community center and open in February 2010.
• Ring. The renovated library, located at 8835 Long Point, will open in June 2010.
• Computer Classes. More computer classes than ever, with 1,700 classes expected to teach almost 10,000 people.
Construction for new libraries is paid for with CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) bond funds, approved every few years by voters. Staff and operating funds, however, come out of the general fund. Multi-service centers are also built with CIP funds, but can receive federal CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) funds if they serve low-income areas. Their operating funds also tap into the general fund.
We will be watching the local economy very closely, since next year we may not have the same ability to balance the budget by digging into savings.
A candidate for Houston’s mayor in the November 3 election, Annise D. Parker is Houston’s third-term city controller and one of the highest-ranking openly LGBT-elected municipal officials in the U.S. Her webpage is AnniseParker.com. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an e-mail to [email protected]