Houston City Council approves heavily amended $5.5 billion budget after months of obstacles

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Houston City Council voted to approve a $5.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2019-20 on June 19.

The budget maintains 8.71% in the city’s fund balance, used as reserves and required to stay above 7.5%.

It also includes a $13 million contingency, for emergency use that can also be tapped into should the city and the Houston Professional Firefighters Association come to an agreement on a labor contract that includes raises.

“It’s a conservative budget, it is moving the city forward, and so I hope you will vote for it,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said to council members before the vote.

Council Members Brenda Stardig, Mike Knox, Greg Travis and Dwight Boykins voted against it. All other members besides Council Member Jerry Davis, who was absent, voted in favor.

Boykins, who has recently filed paperwork indicating a run for mayor of Houston and has received public support from the HPFFA, voted against the budget due to its lack of funds allocated to comply with Proposition B’s pay-parity requirement.

“I would be hypocritical supporting a budget that does not support the Proposition B mandate.” Boykins said. “It was very clear to me that there were a lot of departments that had an excess of funds. … We took the firefighters and their families through a stressful period.

Turner responded to Boykin’s statement and said he did not offer any amendments addressing the issue.

“You didn’t offer one amendment to do that, Turner said. “You offered an amendment to increase your council district’s service fund.”

‘A unique budget’

Council members discussed over 30 amendments, none of which addressed firefighter pay. Council Member Michael Kubosh said he thought adding an amendment related to the matter would be inappropriate while it remains tied up in the legal system.

Council Member Dave Martin said the amount of amendments approved was higher than in previous years.

“This was a unique budget,” Martin said. “[Turner] looked at our amendments, and we probably passed 90% of them. That has never happened in my 7 1/2 years here.”

One approved amendment was a commitment to zero-based budgeting after FY 2019-20, proposed by Knox and amended by the mayor’s administration to only require the approach for FY 2020-21.

Three financial transparency amendments were proposed with two passing, including Stardig’s amendments, which require the city controller to add more information to the city’s monthly financial report.

One added feature would give an update to the controller office’s efforts to track evidence on bid-splitting, an illegal practice that would allow a city contractor to split up a bid into small payments that do not require City Council approval. Another requires the controller to report any contracts under $50,000 approved by the mayor’s administration that were not included in the current fiscal year budget.

Another amendment, creating a public, searchable database of city controller records, did not pass due to concerns about its $100,000 price tag.

Editor’s note: this post has been updated for clarity.

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.
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