FW council gets ‘within our means’ budget

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Fort Worth City Manager Tom Higgins has handed the City Council a proposed “living within our means” 2014 budget with $570 million in general fund spending, an increase of $13.8 million from 2013.

The first good news is that the budget contains no increase in the property tax rate of 85.5 cents for each $100 of assessed value.

The other good news is the bottom line could have been a lot worse. Higgins and his administrative staff have controlled cost increases within reasonable limits while overcoming what had been projected to be a $50 million funding shortfall.

Initial forecasts had projected the need to pull $40.8 million from “fund balance” reserves to balance the budget. The proposal presented to the council Tuesday reduces that draw-down to just $7.7 million.

That’s a significant achievement. The city can’t continue pulling money from its fund balance (the withdrawal for the 2013 budget was $40.5 billion) or soon none will be left.

Council members are expected to continue drilling down into separate parts of the budget — which totals $1.4 billion in spending once enterprise funds such as the water and sewer fund are included — in workshop sessions and public hearings during the next month.

They’ll put together a final version, which is scheduled for a council vote Sept. 17.

The budget’s bottom line is aided considerably by increased income from property taxes, sales taxes and fees. Those revenue increases are expected to bring in an additional $19.2 million to the general fund next year.

Higgins and his staff also found $19.4 million more in what he calls “sustainable” spending cuts. That includes cutting 120 allocated job slots, only 15 of which are filled.

Higgins said those 15 employees will be offered jobs in their department or be encouraged to apply for other city positions that are still open.

The Police Department will give up 46 vacant positions, while the Fire Department will not fill 36 vacant slots.

The council has to make some difficult decisions as its budget discussions continue. For example, Higgins is proposing a 6.4 percent increase in water rates and a $5.3 percent increase in sewer rates.

Also coming is a council discussion of increases in costs for retiree health benefits. The budget proposal calls for no increase in contributions to those benefits for 2014, a savings of $7 million.

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