During a recent public hearing held on the preliminary 2012 Corpus Christi City Budget, Assistant City Manager Oscar Martinez reviewed several measures being implemented to rein in the general fund budget prior to the July 31 deadline.

Using a “zero based” system this year, departments were asked to completely detail what is required for them to to their jobs both efficiently and effectively.

Staff members compiled detailed lists of expenditures, programs and activities, and service levels, Martinez said during his presentation to the city council. The administrative staff, which is working to lower an estimated $11 million deficit in the general fund, has brought in $5.6 million in departmental reductions. During the council meeting on June 24, council members voted 5-4 to continue the budget process utilizing the effective property tax rate, which is $0.05 higher that the current property tax rate of $0.58 per $100 of property valuations.

At the same time, Martinez said, city staff will continue to analyze departments for possible reductions and efficiencies.

The first reading of the adoption ordinance for the proposed budget is July 12.

During the public hearing, several community members came forward to speak out against cuts to programs such as senior centers and MHMR.

More than 20 senior citizens, who are frequent visitors to the Lindale Senior Center, showed up to the public hearing. Harley Doerfler, president of the Lindale Senior Center site council, said the reduction in hours for senior center staff to 19 hours a week will lead to a loss of employees who care about the citizens who frequent the city’s senior centers.

“These supervisors are the lifeblood for these residents. They help pay their bills, they reach out to them and their families, they are the ones who call the ones who follow up if we’re sick,” Doerefler said. “If there was no center, then a lot of us would just be sitting at home. The center makes sure we receive a nutritious meal. The centers are a source of companionship.

"It feels good getting out and being around others. And the sad thing is, the cuts to these centers means some of the residents will fall through the cracks. They won’t get that level of attention and several will die without it.”

Also cut in this budget is the $54,000 that is usually given to MHMR annually to help support their services in the community. By leveraging those funds through state grants concerning homeless issues, early childhood grants and crime victim grants, the organization is able to maximize the matching ability of those funds to more than $2 million worth of help annually, said Vicky Garza, chair of the Board of Trustees for MHMR.

Randy Ramirez and Steven DeLeon came forward to the council to inform them about how MHMR continues to make a difference in their lives.

Ramirez said he was struggling though life, homeless and practically camping on the street.

“They brought me into the program, and gave me a chance to start working. I wouldn’t have anything I’ve worked for without them,” Ramirez said. “I’ve stayed clean and kept busy. I’m keeping my head on straight. That’s kept me in line.”

DeLeon said he’s learned to believe in himself when no one else did. The MHMR program, he said, provided him with opportunities to ensure he can move forward in life.

“I’m trying to be as independent as possible. I’ve been working in the state program, with MHMR, since 2006. The vocational staff, along with their help and support, is helping me to reach my goals by providing the skills I need to live independently,” DeLeon said.