City of Houston Operating Budget
This Wednesday, Houston City Council will vote on the city’s $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget. The budget process allows council members to offer amendments on the proposed budget. This year I am offering eight amendments aimed at identifying cost savings, improving city processes, and ensuring efficient delivery of key city services. These amendments are described below:
Shared Services Working Group: You have probably heard me talk about forming a Shared Services Working Group several times already, including when I released my Shared Services report in March. Sharing services between the city and the county has the potential to reduce overlapping and duplicative services, pool resources to better leverage additional funding, take advantage of economies of scale, and create opportunities for innovation. Forming a Shared Services Working Group is a “high budgetary impact” recommendation of the PFM Report which could lead to potential savings of more than $10 million. I have proposed an amendment that the City shall establish a Shared Services Working Group to explore areas in which the City and Harris County may jointly provide services to gain efficiencies. Opportunities for shared services include, but are not limited to, public health, public safety, libraries, parks, information technology, fleet, animal services, road construction/maintenance, flood mitigation, and 311. The working group will be made up of personnel from the city and county and will commence work within 120 days of the passage of the City’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget.
Health Benefits Fund-Spousal Carve Out Study: The spousal carve-out would limit or deny coverage to active employee spouses with access to other medical benefits through their employers. This change would effectively provide spousal coverage to only those without access to another form of employer health benefits. The city currently has 8,517 spouses on the city benefits plan. This amendment proposes the Human Resources Department study a potential carve-out and provide findings to the Budget and Fiscal Affairs committee within 90 days. I am co-authoring this amendment with Mayor Pro-Tem Martin & CM Plummer.
General Fund Budget Savings: My team and I have spent a great deal of time poring over the budget line items to look for potential savings. We identified a total of $356,166.00 in individual line item increases that I am proposing to return to the city’s general fund reserve.
Teleworking: During the COVID-19 Stay Home, Work Safe order, over 3,000 city employees worked from home. This amendment asks the Human Resources Department to study the efficiency and cost-saving potential of increased teleworking in the city. I'm co-authoring this amendment with CM Travis.
Outcome-Based Budgeting: I’m advocating for phasing in outcome-based budgeting in FY2021. Outcome-based budgeting, another PFM Report recommendation, is a budget process that aligns resources with results. This budget would be organized at the service level around the city’s priority outcomes. Government is cut down to its most effective size, through strategic reviews, consolidation, and rightsizing, using competition to squeeze more value out of every tax dollar.
Public Engagement in Budget Process: This year I introduced the Your 2¢ budget survey and received almost 1,500 responses (see summary of results below or here). Next year, I would like for the City of Houston to host at least four community meetings on the operating budget to solicit input from constituents. This amendment would also create a citywide budget survey.
Permitting Center Process Improvements: The Houston Permitting Center Advisory Board was created to recommend process improvements for the permitting center. This amendment requires recommendations to be presented to the Transportation, Technology, and Infrastructure Committee within 90 days. I'm co-authoring this amendment with CM Robinson.
Food Deserts: During my time on the campaign I witnessed firsthand the lack of grocery stores and healthy food options in many Houston neighborhoods. This amendment would require the City to create a pilot program that offer tax incentives to grocery stores or other companies to deliver food to Houstonians experiencing food insecurity and living in food deserts, areas without access to fresh, nutritious foods within a one-mile radius. I'm co-authoring this amendment with CMs Peck & Thomas.
I look forward to the discussion of these and other important budget matters at council this Wednesday. Please let me know your thoughts. The council meeting is on Wednesday morning at 9:00 a.m. on HTV.