Friday, September 19, 2014
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County budget cuts won’t affect salaries

EDINBURG — At this week’s Hidalgo County budget workshop, county leaders said they didn’t want budget cuts to affect county staff.

“I don’t think we ought to be impacting our employees with furloughs or (salary) cuts,” Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said Wednesday. “If we’re going to be cutting, it should be something in the operating budget.”

Last week, officials decided on a three percent departmental budget cut that excluded law enforcement. Budget Officer Sergio Cruz said those cuts in some departments may mean someone loses their job. On Tuesday, officials said they didn’t want to see that happen.

“In some cases, you are able to adopt a three percent reduction without affecting salaries, I think we should take it on a case by case basis,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios.

Commissioners said they would work with departments who aren’t able to make a three percent cut without affecting employees. Department heads are expected to visit with commissioners at the next budget workshop. In the meantime, as departments work on their budgets, commissioners asked that departments that can cut beyond three percent do so.

Cruz said some departments are better suited for budget cuts. In some cases that’s because they’ll be able to cut first from vacancies within their department before going into cutting services or salaries.

Planning Administrator Raul Sessin said his budget is too small for a three percent cut. That cut, he said, would decrease half of his operating expenses in half.

“It’d be very difficult for me,” Sessin said.

Precinct 3 Constable Larry Gallardo said fuel costs and repairs on constable deputy vehicles guzzle most of his budget. Constables, while generally considered law enforcement, aren’t excluded from budget cuts. In Hidalgo County, the only law enforcement arm of the county not touched in budget cuts is the sheriff’s office.

Gallardo said he needs $30,000 to finish this year after expensive fuel and repair costs. He explained that he’d be out $60,000 if his department was forced to make the full three percent cut.

While officials are going back and forth as to where they’ll make appropriate cuts in county budgets, they’re also against a time crunch. The budget must be approved and submitted to the county clerk by the end of the month.

“Time is now working against us,” said Valde Guerra, commissioners’ court executive officer, explaining that a general direction should be given to department heads to try to go beyond a three percent cut if possible to minimize the amount of money taken from the county fund balance. “We’ll realize some additional revenues.”

County policy requires the fund balance to retain 10 to 15 percent of the budget, which this year is $170 million. In their budget talks, with a three percent budget cut across the board excluding salaries and the sheriff’s office, the county would need to take about $7 million from the fund balance.

County leaders are expected to meet twice next week to talk with department heads about potential budget cuts and ways to minimize the affect on the fund balance.

“It’s not code red,” said Palacios. “We’re OK, but it all depends on what we can do.”

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