Next FW budget ‘will involve some hard decisions’

Posted Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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What City Manager Tom Higgins has said in a letter to Fort Worth employees should come as a surprise to no one: Program cuts, resource reductions and some layoffs are likely in the next annual city budget.

Higgins is scheduled to present that budget to the City Council on Aug. 13.

“Our economy is recovering and we are on the right track, but this is the year that we need to right-size our spending and ensure we are living within our long-term means,” Higgins wrote in the letter.

That’s the sort of thing good managers do for their employees when they know bad news is coming: Let them know as soon as possible, be as honest as you can, make sure they’re in the loop because their lives are affected.

The budget problems the city will face next year are long-term issues. The council has recognized them and talked about them each year for several years.

Population growth and the demand for city services are growing fast, but annual revenue, while growing, isn’t keeping pace.

On top of that, the council and city staff have recognized the need for additional capital spending for basic infrastructure upkeep and expansion. They have shifted part of the tax rate that had been devoted to operations and are using it instead to pay for infrastructure needs.

To keep up with operating expenses, recent budgets have drawn from “fund balance,” basically savings built up in previous years. But that’s not a good long-term strategy — eventually the savings account runs dry.

“We can’t maintain this solution forever,” former Chief Financial Officer Horatio Porter told the council almost a year ago. He said the city staff needed to spend time examining each department “to try to find ways to reduce the cost structure for the organization” and to “eliminate inefficiencies.”

That was the right strategy then, and it still is. It is the one Higgins is emphasizing now.

In his letter to employees, he wrote, “The goal is to make sustainable changes to our budget to allow us to invest in the city’s infrastructure, the right services and in our employees going forward. Accomplishing this will involve some hard decisions.”

The council will start finalizing those decisions Aug. 13.

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