HOUSTON – Thousands of children would lose access to city-funded sports programs under the budget Mayor Annise Parker proposed on Thursday.
The plan would reduce the city’s overall spending by $100 million. It has drawn praise for not including any police officer or firefighter layoffs – but it does include 747 civilian layoffs.
The Houston City Council must vote on the plan by next month. But in a city with such a strong-mayor form of government, Parker’s plan is significant and will likely face only minor changes.
"We believe that this is a conservative, but realistic budget,” Parker said. "The citizens of Houston will be well-served by this budget, even though there's been some belt-tightening."
That belt-tightening includes cuts to the soccer program at Milby Park in southeast Houston -- a heavily Latino community where soccer is extremely popular.
"Very sad,” said Jaime Villegas, the program’s organizer. “Because the kids are the ones losing."
As parents watched soccer practice Thursday afternoon, some were worried about what their kids would do after school.
"It makes me upset, and it makes my son very upset," said parent Monica Gongora.
According to the parks and recreation department, 900 kids participate in city-funded soccer programs during the summer. That number grows to 5,000 in the fall. During the summer, about 3,000 children participate.
As for flag football, about 1,500 kids take part. Volleyball draws about 800 and basketball includes about 5,000 kids during the winter.
All of those programs would be cut under Parker’s proposed budget. Youth baseball programs would continue thanks to funding from the Houston Astros, the mayor’s office said.
Now it’s up to parents, volunteers and private donors to save those programs. They need to find a way to pay for equipment, uniforms and referees.
Some parents say that’s more difficult in lower-income communities.
"It's hard because even if we try to raise money, there are people that don't have money to help us,” said Nereida Saldaña.