Budget Hearings Underway

Harris County Commissioners are going through their operations and looking for areas they can do without. They're learning how to function in light of the budget crunch. Pat Hernandez has more.

This is the week that the Harris County Budget office sits with all departments and agency heads to discuss how they can function with limited resources.  The county has begun notifying employees of layoffs after a hiring freeze was
instituted about a year and a half ago.

"I've not liked the hiring freeze for a long time. I've expressed it over and over. I think it's an arbitrary way to make decisions. I think we ought to be making those decisions, but it is what it is."

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says every department head is making some painful decisions right now.

"One commissioner pointed out he's got a park that's supposed to be run by seven people — it's being run by one person right now. I've got wine and beer hearings that I'm supposed to be having, but I don't have an attorney on staff to do that right now, because John Donovan got elected to a judgeship, and so he had to leave my staff. Clearly, that needs to be filled. There are a lot of examples throughout the county that we have to address."

Commissioner Jerry Eversole engaged in a heated discussion with county budget officer Dick Raycraft over how 2 positions from outgoing Commissioner Sylvia Garcia's staff were absorbed by the sheriff's department.

Judge Emmett: "It was a move that was arranged, and it was as a result of the election. That's the language that the court approved. And that's the thing, there are exceptions to the hiring freeze. They just have to go through the budget office and these exceptions went through the budget office — it's my understanding. Commissioner Eversole doesn't agree with them and that's certainly his prerogative."

Emmett says he'd rather the county operate with zero-based budgeting -- where every program and agency is studied and prioritized.

"In my mind, clearly law enforcement and public safety is high on that priority list, much higher than some other things we spend money on. But those decisions we have to make when we get into the budget process."

Judge Emmett says he anticipates Commissioners will try to protect what they can for the good of their precinct.

"When Dr. Raycraft comes back with a budget recommendation, I'm sure some department heads and some elected officials will like his recommendations and others won't, and at that point when it comes to Commissioner's Court, then I'm sure we'll have a fairly spirited discussion over where we should put our resources."

The county is trying to trim its 1.3-billion dollar budget that begins March 1.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...