HOUSTON – City council members faced grim predictions from the city’s finance department Monday as they sought to balance a growing budget deficit.
City controller Ronald Green estimated the shortfall would be between $50-80 million next year if council members didn’t act.
"The city council and the administration has some work to do to close that gap," Green said.
Some council members seemed surprised at the extent of the city’s budget woes and blasted Mayor Annise Parker’s administration for not providing budget details earlier.
"We’re all asking questions and no one is giving us any answers," Councilmember Jolanda Jones said.
The mayor was not present at Monday’s meeting of the city’s budget and fiscal affairs committee, but in a memorandum to council members she ordered that all currently vacant city positions would be eliminated to save money.
But even she admitted that won’t be nearly enough to close the gap.
"I think we are being forced into a position to discuss what’s really important in the form of service delivery in the city of Houston," Councilmember C.O. Bradford said.
For the first time, council members saw a furlough proposal, which would save the city $1 million a day if enacted. The finance department’s proposal would call for either one or two furlough days a month, which would save either $6 million or $12 million.
Police officers and firefighters would not be included in the plan.
Council members are also considering a slew of extra fees, although many said they preferred to cut expenses before raising taxes. The proposals range from small increases in parking rates to new ambulance fees.
Another proposal that seemed to catch some council members by surprise was the option of raising property tax rates. Under the proposal, homeowners would have to pay an extra five cents for every $100 their home was worth.
No vote was taken during the meeting, but council members promised to take a closer look at some of cost-cutting options in the coming weeks.
A full council meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.