mom2momdfw

Fort Worth council passes budget, leaves door open for review of arts funding

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
A

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

FORT WORTH -- The City Council approved a $1.4 billion budget Tuesday that adds more room for infrastructure and police and fire needs, maintains most city services, keeps the property tax rate the same but cuts funding for the arts and social services.

The budget doesn't include a water rate increase but does bump up fees in other areas, including the replacement of an unpopular $5 parking fee at the Will Rogers Memorial Center with a variable-rate menu.

It does not include pay raises for employees but increases their health insurance contributions 8 percent to help cover a significant rise in the city's premium.

The $583 million general fund portion of the budget is 4 percent higher than last year and keeps the property tax rate at 85.5 cents per $100 of valuation. On a house valued at $200,000, the city tax would be $1,710.

The council voted 8-1 for the budget. Councilman Joel Burns voted no, saying he doesn't believe that it reflects the community's wants.

Council members, pressed for weeks to avoid a 25 percent cut to the Arts Council of Fort Worth & Tarrant County, advanced the notion of creating a dedicated revenue stream for arts funding.

Mayor Betsy Price said the city will likely move in the next 30 to 45 days to create a task force to come up with solutions, broadening the discussion beyond the arts. She wants to seek dedicated revenue streams for Sister Cities, the Directions Home homelessness program and streets.

The new budget pares Sister Cities and Directions Home.

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

'The wrong place'

Mayor Pro Tem W.B. "Zim" Zimmerman supports the idea of coming up with a source for the arts outside the basic-services general fund.

"The general budget is the wrong place for it," Zimmerman said. "Because it is in the general budget, it winds up being subject to ups and downs. I think the council is in agreement that we've probably got to find some other way to fund the arts."

Councilman Sal Espino said he will press for a midyear budget review to determine whether any savings can be directed to the arts council.

Espino had lobbied during budgeting to fund the arts council from the city's hotel tax, whose revenue goes to improvements at the Will Rogers complex and the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau. The arts council was funded for several years by the hotel tax before the council moved it into the general fund.

"If we have cost savings [at midyear], I'm going to keep fighting for restoring the 25 percent," Espino said in an interview, noting that the arts council makes grants in February.

Jody Ulich, the arts council's executive director, said in an interview that she is grateful that the mayor agreed to create a task force.

"I'm glad the mayor's teed that up," she said. "We're going to hold their feet to the fire."

Water rates

Arts patrons again packed a final budget hearing before the council's vote. Fort Worth Opera General Director Darren Woods and Kids Who Care Director Deborah Jung were among the speakers.

In a skirmish earlier in the council meeting, members voted 5-4 against increases in the water and sewer rates. Price and Frank Moss, Jungus Jordan, Kelly Allen Gray, and Danny Scarth voted no.

The council later separated the water and sewer rates, a move proposed by Water Director Frank Crumb, then voted down the water increase and approved the 2.06 percent sewer increase.

Gray said she felt that ratepayers were being "nickel-and-dimed" by fee increases. Price had expressed concern about the impact of annual raises on large users.

The council members also said the rationale for the sewer increase -- sewer volumes have dropped because of conservation, forcing the Water Department to raise those rates to cover fixed infrastructure costs -- is confusing to residents.

Spokeswoman Mary Gugliuzza said the Water Department will use reserves to cover the loss of revenue from the voted-down water increase.

"Without the increase this year, we could be looking at a double-digit rate increase next year, just on the water side," Gugliuzza said.

Price said in an interview that she is hoping for a water rate increase of no more than 6 percent in the 2014 budget.

Parking fee

The council also dispatched the remains of the unpopular $5 Will Rogers Memorial Center parking fee that it put in place in 2010 to cover the costs of the Western Heritage garage.

The fee, however, discouraged patrons of the nearby museums and events at the Will Rogers complex. The council replaced the $5 rate with a variable schedule that starts at 45 minutes for free and tops out at $10 for four hours or more.

The fee is already unpopular with Will Rogers vendors who stay the whole day at the complex, but the museums said most of their visitors will end up paying significantly less than $5 to park.

Last week, the council approved leasing a city-owned lot to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, which is coming up with a rate schedule that will likely give reduced-rate or free parking to members and continue to charge nonmembers.

The museum agreed to make the lot available to visitors of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

The council created more room for investment in infrastructure and the construction of the new police and fire training center by shifting a penny and a half of the property tax rate into debt service.

The budget includes three police academy classes and one fire academy class, upgrades the public safety radio system, and adds victim assistance positions.

It adds maintenance and operations money for the new Marine Park pool on the north side; the repaired Forest Park pool on the near south side; the new Chisholm Trail community center in southwest Fort Worth; and the Z Boaz park, converted from a golf course, on the west side.

The budget also adds two animal control officers but freezes 17 job openings and contains minimal potential layoffs. The city is reclassifying about 20 library management jobs into lesser-paying ones and is working on offering jobs to displaced employees.

"There are sufficient vacancies across the department and across the city that we don't believe anybody will be laid off," Horatio Porter, the city's budget officer, told council members Tuesday.


Fort Worth funding cuts

Here are some of the funding cuts in Fort Worth's 2013 budget.

Program

Cut

Remaining funding

Impact

Street maintenance

$204,762

 $19.7 million

2.5 lane miles won't be resurfaced

Directions Home

$239,336

 $2.15 million

Partnership provides ousing services for homeless

Park mowing

$231,349

 $1.87 million

Mowing every 21 days instead of 14, except during rainy season

City right-of-way mowing

$250,000

 N/A

Better pricing, no impact on service

Coming Up Gang

$187,600

 $1.68 million

Gang intervention partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs; would cut far north Fort Worth location. Nine remaining locations.

Arts Council of Fort Worth

& Tarrant County

$266,564

 $799,691

Less funding for grants

Alley maintenance

$350,000

 $332,184

Longer response times and fewer alleys mowed; responsibility falls back on homeowners

United Way of Tarrant County

$70,250

 $210,750

Less funding on contract in place for years

Hispanic, black chambers

$63,252

 $253,008

Cuts for Fort Worth Black and Hispanic chambers of commerce

Banking fees

$400,000

 NA

Interest income expected to offset fees

Source: City of Fort Worth


Fort Worth fees

The city's 2013 budget includes some fee increases and changes. Here's a look:

Current fee

Change

Sewer

Varies

+2.06%

Water

Varies

x-none

Will Rogers Memorial Center

parking, including

Western Heritage garage

$5

y-varies

Science museum parking lot

$5

z-see below

Meadowbrook golf,

weekday/weekend morning

$19/$24

+$1

Junior golf fees, Meadowbrook,

Pecan Valley Hills, Rockwood

$9

+$1

Log Cabin Village entry, youth/adult

$4/$5

+$1

ID cards, child/family

$6/$40

+$4/$10

Marine Park and Forest Park

pool rentals, two hours

None

$250

Parks youth athletic program activity

$10

+$5

Parks synthetic athletic

field hourly rental

$30/$40

+$5

Parks athletic field

hourly rental

$15/$30

+$5

Planning and Development,

various fees

Gas well, $500

+$100

Water impact fees,

new construction

$867 for typical

single-family home

-$398

Wastewater impact fees,

new construction

$185 for smallest

meter

+$267

Source: City departments. x-Council voted down increase; y-45 minutes to one hour, $3; one to two hours, $5; two to three hours, $7; three to four hours, $9; four hours or more, $10; z-Leased to science museum, which will determine its own rates and keep revenue

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808; Twitter: @JScottNishimura

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?