Fort Worth council must question cost of police contract

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Fort Worth officials seem pretty happy with the new contract they've worked out with police -- so happy, in fact, that City Council members had few questions when the agreement was formally presented to them.

The council is scheduled to vote next week on approving the contract. Maybe there'll be some questions asked then.

Here's a possibility, in case anyone is interested: How are we going to pay for this?

At their briefing on Tuesday, council members were told the contract, which would replace one that expired last Sept. 30, will have a four-year cost of $35.6 million.

The primary cost drivers will be raises of 1 percent for the 2013-14 fiscal year, 2 percent in 2014-15, 1 percent in 2015-16 and 2 percent midway through that final year.

The agreement would expire on Sept. 30, 2016.

Annual raises in the recently expired contract were significantly higher, ranging from 3 percent to 3.5 percent during its four years.

Still, any cost at all will be particularly noticeable in next year's budget, which the council will have to iron out this summer.

Chief Financial Officer Horatio Porter has said projected expenditures in next year's budget exceed expected revenue by $50 million, which includes a projection for police raises..

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association negotiated the new contract under "meet and confer" rules approved by Fort Worth voters in a contentious 2006 election.

The association announced earlier this month that 83 percent of its members had approved the terms of the new contract..

It's significant that police would be that agreeable at a time when they clearly still harbor bad feelings about the council's recent decision to trim their pension plan.

It's understandable that council members might be inclined to accept the association's show of good faith and approve the contract.

But there's still that nagging question about the role the cost will play in next year's $50 million budget shortfall.

Obviously, next year's spending plans must be cut.

In a budget that approaches $600 million, there have to be places where cuts can be found, but certainly not without some pain and probably not without offending anyone.

The council can't escape asking the tough questions.

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