Tough budget talks loom for 'strong' Fort Worth

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The state of the city is "strong," Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said Tuesday in her second annual State of the City Address to a crowded ballroom at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

And she meant it. Price has brought energy and determined drive to the mayor's office since she was elected in 2011. She pushes hard for improvements in public transportation (roads, rail and buses), community engagement (online, through her popular bike-riding town hall meetings, and programs aimed at specific demographic groups) and streamlining City Hall operations (assigning a single employee to shepherd each permit application through fewer required steps).

In such a speech, the mayor is expected to accentuate the positive news, and Price had good news to work with. Crime is down and business activity is up, she said. That's enough to make many Fort Worth residents feel reasonably confident.

But about midway through her speech, which was followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer session, Price showed two slides that should have snapped everyone in the audience to attention. She gave the first public look at what members of the City Council will face in August when they begin ironing out next year's budget.

Her first slide was a graph showing two roughly parallel lines rising annually. The line on the bottom represented the city's annual revenue. The one on top, about $50 million higher, represented expenses.

"We simply must get those two lines together," the mayor said. That's what her second slide showed, with the expense line dropping to match revenues.

As adopted last year, Fort Worth's current $583 million budget was supported by $543 million in revenue and was balanced only by drawing down an additional $40 million from one-time sources of funds.

In an interview after the speech, city Chief Financial Officer Horatio Porter said department heads have been told to submit reports showing what 10 percent cuts in their spending would look like. City Manager Tom Higgins and his top staff will begin reviewing those reports this week, Porter said.

An "alignment" budget proposal will go to the council in August. It's going to be painful but necessary, Price said.

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