Fight brews over Houston budget, furloughs

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by Alex Sanz / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on December 6, 2010 at 8:18 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 7 at 11:23 AM

HOUSTON -- Opposition is growing inside Houston City Hall over Mayor Annise Parker's call for voluntary furloughs for city employees.

"It's all window dressing," said Council Member Mike Sullivan. "In the scheme of a $4 billion budget it doesn't amount to a hill of beans."

Sullivan said he proposed paring down budgets and delaying pay raises six months ago -- cuts he said could have saved the city tens of millions of dollars.

The voluntary furloughs, for example, could save the city as much as $1 million a month.

"The mayor is going to have to come to the realization that we're going to have to take some very serious measures and those will be mandatory furloughs, maybe even formal layoffs," he said.

Some estimates predict Houston will face a nearly $120 million budget shortfall as early as next summer, in part because of a drop in property-tax revenues, a loss of revenue from the now-defunct red-light cameras and growing pension costs.

"We've been focusing on finding the efficiencies," Mayor Annise Parker said. "Now we're down to what we can do to plug the hole."

Fear of mandatory furloughs and layoffs has led to lower morale, according to city employees.

"You've got people that are living paycheck to paycheck," said a City of Houston employee, who asked not to be identified. "There's going to be a lot of people out there struggling."

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