In a split vote, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a $1.3 billion budget for the next seven months as well as a preliminary $2.15 billion budget for the following 12 months at the Feb. 8 meeting.

Harris County is changing its fiscal year to run from Oct. 1-Sept. 30. Commissioners approved in a 3-2 vote a “short fiscal year” budget for March 1-Sept. 30, 2022, as well as a “planning” budget for FY 2022-23. The FY 2022-23 budget, along with tax rates, is expected to be finalized in September.

About 64% of each budget is dedicated to justice and safety efforts, which includes law enforcement, courts, detention, indigent defense, the district attorney’s office and other county safety initiatives. The FY 2022-23 budget includes $1.38 billion for justice and safety programs.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said these investments will provide 400 vehicles for sheriffs and constables; salary increases and overtime pay for the district attorney’s office; constable pay increases; additional detention officers at the jail; additional sheriff patrol deputies; additional bailiffs for courts; nearly $1 million for constable patrol contracts; and 35 more positions in the criminal investigations bureau of the sheriff’s office.

This new budget builds on commissioners’ ongoing efforts to reduce crime and support law enforcement agencies as the rate of violent gun-related crime locally and nationally rises, Hidalgo said at a Feb. 7 press conference.

“We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem. Decades of failed criminal justice policies have wasted billions of dollars focused on so-called ‘silver bullet’ solutions that sound good—like mass incarceration, like indiscriminate policing—while failing to address the root causes of crime and the root causes of the issues,” she said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia proposed an amendment to provide county sheriff and constable deputies with additional pay raises at the cost of $7 million.

“This innovative approach I proposed puts us on a path toward providing excellent pay for local law enforcement, who are working hard every day, while also making Harris County the most attractive place for the best and brightest folks in Texas to come work,” Garcia said in a statement. “These moves, including the historic salary increases at the DA’s office we proposed, will go a long way to recruiting and retaining incredible talent charged with improving public safety and ending the court backlog.”

The two Republican commissioners, Tom Ramsey of Precinct 3 and Jack Cagle of Precinct 4, opposed the budget after proposing their own alternate budget plans that ultimately did not move forward.

Cagle’s approach was to use the county’s 2018 budget as a starting point and then add requests from the law enforcement agencies, he said, suggesting county government had expanded in the last three years and he would like to return to the “basics” of overseeing road maintenance, parks and public safety. Ramsey said he proposed “logical” cuts that would result in 500 new law enforcement positions.

Harris County Administrator David Berry said more than 1,100 positions would have been eliminated in 2023 under these proposals. Harris County Public Health Director Barbie Robinson said many services for the most vulnerable county residents would have come to an end and the proposed cuts would have hampered the department’s ability to pursue grant funding.

Ramsey released a statement Feb. 8 expressing his disappointment in the outcome of the budget approval.

“They offered numerous amendments, but not one added even a single patrol officer protecting our neighborhoods. I am saddened by the direction the court majority chose to go, especially during these dangerous and violent times. I will continue to look for solutions and fight for the safety of you and your neighbors,” he said.