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Council Prepares to Amend, Vote on Budget

Updated: Tuesday, February 18 2014, 03:37 PM CST
The hearings are done. Now it's time to amend and vote on the city's $599.1 million budget

The
Houston administration is calling it a "maintenance budget." Beyond
personnel costs and the new infrastructure program, there's not much
added, and aldermen have been generally receptive to it - at least
during meetings.

That's not to say there won't be one, or maybe a few, amendments.

In
a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, the only solid amendment
aldermen have requested is for $80,000. Aldermen Edwards, Turner, Jobe
and Griffin want to take money budgeted for a private investigations
firm and communication upgrades and put it into the council's budget.

"My
understanding is they're looking to do some sort of employee
accountability initiative similar to what we were doing with the money
in the first place," said the city's budget director Bill McCarty.

It's
not clear what specifically the money would go toward, but Edwards says
it would be to hire some type of outside investigator or attorney who
could look into malfeasance or corruption. That's similar to some of the
money's original purpose, but it would place the council in control
instead of the administration.

"Then they can do an investigation without being hampered by somebody who has an agenda," Edwards said.

There
are some other ideas floating around. Alderman Gail Simpson wanted more
money for the library, so it can extend its hours. That's something
patrons would like.

"With us just having just one main branch
open in Springfield, I think that we should capitalize those hours as
much as we're able," said Josh Ryder as he left the library with his
family on Monday.

But McCarty says the city doesn't have the money.

"In
order to do that, we would have to take those resources from other
areas that we feel are other higher priorities right now," he said.

Simpson
said that issue alone won't hold up her vote. But at least one alderman
will be voting "no" on principle. Alderman Joe McMenamin says he
refuses to vote in favor of a budget that doesn't include municipal
pension reform.

"We have to fund our pensions, but we also need to live within our means," he said.

In
the end, though, none of these issues are expected to derail the
budget's passage. It probably won't be passed as easily as last year,
though, when the council passed it on the consent agenda. That means
there was no debate on the day of the vote.

McCarty said that is the only time that has ever happened.

The
budget needs to be passed before March 1. Since the next council
meeting isn't until March 4. Mayor Houston plans to call a special
meeting to take care of that piece of business.Council Prepares to Amend, Vote on Budget


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