HOUSTON – There is a $169 million budget gap in the city of Houston’s budget for the next fiscal year, according to the numbers Mayor Sylvester Turner released on Tuesday.
The city is reeling from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and local leaders are not sugar-coating it. City leaders said they need to make drastic cuts, which means thousands of city employees are facing the possibility that they could be furloughed.
Among those impacted, five police cadet classes and about 375 officers would be cut as of July 1.
Turner said he will try to secure more funding to save those jobs by using federal money. And when he gets that money, he said the new police hires will be the first back in the budget.
“My number one priority would be to add back those five cadet classes, that would be priority number one,” Turner said. “I’ve asked Chief Pena with the fire department and Chief Acevedo and others to take a look at where their employees were used specifically for COVID purposes. And then it’s possible, we can then pull dollars from the cares act that fits those guidelines."
HPD Chief Art Acevedo believes the high spike rate in crime in Houston is indirectly connected to COVID-19. He said the current administration should make those federal funds available to Houston.
“The first wave of this pandemic is the pandemic itself. The second wave is the economic downturn and the third wave is the crime wave and that’s what we’re dealing with and we need some help,” Acevedo said.
The police department has seen its ups and downs over the years and Houston Police Officers’ Union President, Joe Gamaldi, believes even through this pandemic, they will continue to build the department.
“We can’t afford for anyone to take a furlough day here at HPD but the fact of the matter is -- no one thought we’d be able to grow this department once before and we did it and we’ll do it again we just have to find the resources and I’m confident this mayor and council can do that,” Gamaldi said.
Turner said they are still looking at ways to pull in more federal funding and he says don’t be surprised if more money starts flowing into the budget in the next few weeks.