Harris County sets 2014–15 budget

Harris County Commissioners Court adopted the new fiscal year budget with a general fund of approximately $1.8 billion Feb. 11.

In the last 13 years, Harris County has increased by 1 million residents, 75 percent of whom live in unincorporated parts of the county, chief budget officer Bill Jackson said.

"Along with that growth is a lot of industry and commerce, and we are very strong as far as the economy goes," he said. "The energy business is making it thrive. Far north Harris County where ExxonMobil is building its new headquarters is [one] area where there is a lot of commerce going on right now.

"In preparing the budget, the challenge is not to allocate budgets based on the past, but to anticipate the future and working to make sure we don't stifle growth and the economy."

One of the top priorities for the county this year is becoming less dependent on short-term borrowing, or money used to make purchases, until property taxes come in at the end of the fiscal year.

"If we continue on this track and make it a priority, in a few years we may be able to eliminate short-term borrowing," Jackson said. "It will give us the ability to reset our fiscal year back to the September time frame, which will make the county run smoother."

The proposed budget allows for borrowing in the new fiscal year to come in at $225 million, which is down from $450 million in 2012 and $375 million in 2013.

Another priority for county officials involves investing in human capital, and the new budget allocated funding for each department that can be used for salary increases.

"The problem with the economy in Houston right now is that it's getting competitive," Jackson said. "We need to make sure we look at these salaries so institutional knowledge does not flow out of the county so we can retain employees and recruit new individuals."

Members of Commissioners Court received an 11 percent raise with the approval of the budget—their first raise since 2008. Court members' salaries increased from $149,568 to $165,900 annually. Additionally, the county is studying minor workplace facility improvements and parking issues.

"For a lot of our employees, their office is their car, so we are working on ways to make sure that we have cars that are comfortable and don't have high mileage," Jackson said. "We are also looking at more fuel-efficient cars."

Ultimately, the county's finances are in good shape, Jackson said.

"If we have a hurricane or disaster or the economy goes downhill, we are well prepared to weather that storm financially," he said.

Budget policy issue highlights

  • The county's capital improvements plan will be presented June 24.
  • Mid-year budget review will be Sept. 23 and will include proposed property tax rates up for approval in October.
  • The rates for contract patrol services will increase by 5 percent beginning March 2015.
  • Roll over budget adjustments for departments will be presented to court for approval in May.
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