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Houston Financial Report sparks discussion on budget controls

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Houston Finance Director Kelly Dow's monthly report to City Council on Wednesday Feb 5 sparked a series of questions about Council's oversight of the city budget. Dow's report followed City Comptroller Ronald Green's report and they concurred on substantially all areas. However, Mr. Dow's statements on higher than expected costs for firefighter overtime prompted concerns. Oliver Pennington asked whether any of the procedures or rules imposed in last year's budget had been disregarded.

The City is currently suing the Firefighter's Pension Fund and challenging a statute allowing the fund to be regulated in Austin and set its payments without obligation to meet and confer with the City of Houston as do all other unions and all other Texas Cities.

At issue was the “Pennington-Martin” amendment, under which unallocated revenues were to be used for debt reduction purposes. Dow explained that the City was obligated to adjust payments to firefighters as part of ongoing discussions of the collective bargaining agreement.

City Attorney Feldman and Mr. Dow explained that the Mayor can adjust payments as needed so long as they are within the overall budget, but that Council will be apprised of any issues if budget limits were reached.

The Council approved a settlement with Centerpoint Energy over the retail utility gas rates. (Item 8) The settlement ends a dispute over a proposed gas utility rate increase without the burden of a lawsuit.

Otherwise, the Council had a relatively short agenda of 15 routine items, of which one was pulled, largely because Mayor Parker is attending the C40 Cities Mayor's Conference in Johanesburg, South Africa.

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