HOUSTON – Continuing Houston’s path toward stronger City finances, Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered his proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget to City Council today after closing a deficit of more than $120 million. The proposed General Fund budget of $2.38 billion represents a slight increase from current FY17 spending levels, despite reductions of $39.6 million in operating costs. The savings were negated by a $51.6 million year-over-year increase in City debt payments structured prior to the Turner administration.
“For the second consecutive year, we have closed a challenging deficit, and done so through actions that strengthen our financial position on a recurring basis,” Mayor Turner said of the proposed FY18 budget. “Each City department, the employee unions and pension systems, City Council and other parties have worked together to identify cost savings and efficiencies while preserving a healthy fund balance, minimizing employee layoffs and maintaining critical City services. As a result, we balanced our budget and I’m proud that for the first time in a long while, Houston is positioned to make its full required payment to all three employee pension systems.”
The proposed FY18 budget assumes final passage of the pension reform worked out by the City, its pension systems, and state lawmakers. It also includes $50.5 million in recurring improvements (primarily spending reductions), while incorporating an additional $72.8 million in one-time solutions. These one-time budget fixes prevented service disruptions and the elimination of hundreds of City jobs, the Mayor noted. The proposed budget would also maintain the City’s General Fund reserves at $186 million or 9.3 percent of expenditures excluding debt service and pay-as-you-go funding, keeping Houston’s fund balance well above the 7.5-percent minimum set out in the City’s financial policies.
FY18 budget challenges included contractually required cost increases, a still-sluggish economy and the City’s revenue cap (which contributed $22 million to the deficit). But the primary trouble spot was a jump in City debt payments based on a repayment schedule established before the current administration took office. Debt payments remain high through FY20 before beginning to drop again, and Mayor Turner noted that even with more than $100 million in recurring cuts over two years, the City still has work to do in bringing its budget to structural balance (wherein recurring revenues are equal to or greater than recurring expenditures).
“Last week I committed once again to ask voters to lift Houston’s ill-advised revenue cap,” the Mayor said. “Without the revenue cap in place, just holding our property tax rate would have contributed another $22 million to eliminating our deficit for FY18. Removing the revenue cap and implementing our long-range financial plan will be essential to resolving the financial challenges that have plagued our city for so long.”
The long-range plan, commissioned in late summer of 2016, is to be complete by July. The FY18 budget begins to draw on plan recommendations, particularly in the area of public safety, which also claims a prominent spot in the Mayor’s priorities unveiled as part of the FY18 budget. These rest on a foundation of strong financial management and set the administration’s Complete Communities initiatives at center, supported by effective public safety and strong infrastructure.