Fort Worth council passes $1.4B budget that maintains most services

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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The Fort Worth City Council approved a $1.4 billion citywide budget today that maintained most services and kept the property tax rate the same, but cut funding for the arts and social services.

The council also voted down a proposed water rate increase, but left in place a hike in stormwater rates.

It ditched the controversial $5 flat fee for parking at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, and installed a new variable rate structure that starts with 45 minutes free and tops out at $10 for 4 hours.

The council voted 8-1 for the budget, with Councilman Joel Burns voting against. The city's property tax rate remains 85.5 cents per $100 of valuation. The budget shifts a penny of that to debt service from operations for the second year in a row, increasing the city's debt capacity to pay for infrastructure and the new public safety center.

Councilman Sal Espino lobbied the council for removing arts funding from the $583 million basic-service general fund, and find a dedicated revenue stream for it, such as the hotel tax.

Mayor Betsy Price and the council, without a vote, supported the idea of a midyear budget review to determine whether there are enough savings in the city's Culture & Tourism Fund -- funded by the hotel occupancy tax -- to allocate to the Arts Council.

The council also supported, again without a vote, the idea of setting up a task force and coming up with ideas for dedicated revenue streams for funding of the arts, the city's Directions Home homelessness program, Fort Worth Sister Cities, and street repairs.

"You simply must be removed from that basic general fund," Price said in remarks just before the council vote.

The approved $583 million general fund budget created more room for capital investment in infrastructure and police and fire needs, and closed a $49 million funding gap largely by using surplus funds from 2012.

Besides the Arts Council cut, the council trimmed spending for the United Way of Tarrant County, minority chambers of commerce, and city partnerships for the homeless and gang intervention.

It gives no employee pay raises, increases employee health insurance contributions 8 percent, freezes 17 job openings and contains minimal potential layoffs. The city is reclassifying about 20 library jobs and is working on moving displaced employees into other positions.

The budget, 4 percent higher than this year's, helps fund the new police and fire training center and upgrades the public safety radio communications system, and brings on a new fire training class while adding to the victim assistance and animal shelter staffs.

It also includes maintenance and operations for the Forest Park and Marine Creek pools and the conversion of the Z Boaz Golf Course to a park, and staffs the soon-to-open Chisholm Trail community center in southwest Fort Worth.

Significant budget increases come from healthcare costs and fuel.

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808

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