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Volume 68, Isssue 106, Friday, February 28, 2003


Budget director assuages staff worries

Cougar News Staff

In an online chat session Thursday, Tom Ehardt, the University of Houston System executive director of budget told attending staff members that it was a good idea not to panic too much about layoffs or the status of longevity pay.

"There are no layoff plans at this point," Ehardt said, according to the chat transcript.

"Since the legislature is in session, anything is fair game," Ehardt said in the chat, "However, there has been no mention of longevity pay (being cut) at this point."

He later affirmed the point again after more questions, saying "To date, longevity pay is not on the table for reductions by the legislature."

Responding to concerns about reduction in force, or RIF, orders, Ehardt said there are no plans to cut staff and faculty as the budget appropriations for FY04 and FY05 are "far from being finalized."

"In a normal legislative year, we would know (about the budget) by the end of May. There is some talk that it will take a special session to arrive at a budget -- perhaps mid to late summer," Ehardt said.

He also said that the cuts are should not disrupt summer session classes too much.

"The hope is to minimize the impact on students," he said, but added that the Academic Affairs division will provide details.

Also on hand at the chat, sponsored by the Staff Council, were UH Police Chief Robert Wilson and Floyd Robinson, director of the UH health center.

Wilson responded to inquiries of terrorism and general campus security.

The chief said plans have been in existence to attend to any sort of catastrophe, including a terror attack. 

Wilson was glad to hear from one staff member who said she noticed an increased campus presence of the police, but said the size of the force has not increased.

He also addressed the armed robberies that have occurred on campus in the last month.

"There have been robberies, all of which are actively under investigation, but unfortunately no arrests have been made yet," Wilson said.

When addressed about parking tickets, Wilson said the department does not work in that area.

"Weire too busy fighting crime on campus," he said.

However, he did say the department has dealt with considerable traffic issues, having recorded some 3,782 traffic citations during 2002.

"This is a huge increase over previous years," he said.

Wilson also confirmed his support of security cameras to curb campus crime, but "unfortunately we donit have the funding."

After a chatter mentioned a student-run emergency response team at Rice, Robinson said that his department has been looking into establishing a campus EMT and it is "still being considered."

Robinson said the health center is also discussing the possibility of offering smallpox vaccinations to staff members.

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