Hurricane Season begins on June 1, and I am working to make sure that our City is prepared. No one will forget the property damage, lost lives, and lasting economic effects caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2016.
Before the start of this year’s hurricane season, Houston began battling a different storm as we confronted the global pandemic known as COVID-19. I realize this challenge is unlike the destructive wind and rain of a hurricane. However, the potentially deadly effects of COVID-19 are equally devastating.
That is why I took pre-emptive steps to save lives and to protect in the City of Houston.
Our City’s response to the health crisis began in March when the Houston Health Department reported its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19. Since then, the virus has spread throughout our City and has claimed more than 100 lives. As a result, we have developed a new normal in how we live, work, and play.
Based on CDC recommendations, I encouraged people to wear face coverings, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds to protect ourselves, our family, neighbors, and coworkers from spreading the disease. But the virus has taken a toll on vulnerable populations like the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. That is why I have fought hard to have robust and ubiquitous testing throughout Houston.
I am working to make sure the City continues to function in a strategic and measured way as we get through this public health crisis. From the beginning, our city government offices remained open and provided core services. I am grateful for the health department, police, and firefighters who have protected our community. I thank the municipal employees, especially those who collect garbage, repair streets and potholes, and provide meals to children because schools closed early.
However, COVID-19 has created some new realities in municipal government. We are facing the worst budget gap in the history of our City. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Houston was experiencing modest growth in sales tax revenue. Because of the economic devastation of the pandemic, we are facing a cumulative estimated loss in sales tax revenue of $107 million for both 2020 and 2021. As a result, my proposed FY2021 budget includes municipal employee furloughs, five deferred police cadet classes, and an ending general fund balance below the required minimum of 7.5%.
These are unconventional times. We are facing tough choices, new challenges, and our response is evolving rapidly.
As the state orders more businesses to reopen, we must all play a role in protecting our community and preventing a surge of COVID-19.
I am asking you to continue wearing a face covering and to maintain social distancing. If not for yourself, then for your loved ones.
The COVID-19 public health crisis has been an unprecedented challenge for all of us.
Our City has faced storms over the years, and just as we weathered each prior storm, we will weather this one. Just as we proved after Harvey, we are in this together, and we will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger and more resilient.