FORT WORTH — The Fire Department will move staff around and use overtime and salary savings from retirements to avoid fire company deactivations at the start of the fiscal year, Fire Chief Rudy Jackson told City Council members Tuesday.After the first quarter, the department will give a review to the council on whether the moves are working, Jackson said.“We’re going to be squeezing the budget as much as we can,” Jackson said in an interview. “We’re going to see where that gets us.”Council members praised the agreement between the department and the city’s budget staff.“The solution doesn’t compromise public safety, and it’s a comfort zone that we can live with,” Mayor Betsy Price said.The proposed $573 million general fund budget, which the council will vote on Tuesday, “goes a long way” toward offering stable annual budget outlooks instead of big gaps such as the $50 million shortfall that the council originally faced going into 2014.The Fire Department originally faced a $3.8 million budget cut, and Jackson warned then that he would have to deactivate an average of four companies per day. (A fire company is one vehicle and its crew.) The deactivations would have been spread among the 12 stations with double companies, and average response times would have increased by one minute and 48 seconds at stations with deactivations, Jackson said.Residents balked at that, particularly in areas such as far north Fort Worth where response times can be slower.In late August, City Manager Tom Higgins and the budget staff restored half of the department’s proposed cut. Jackson said he’d have to deactivate two companies on average per day, limited to the eight double-company stations inside Loop 820. Average response times would have increased by one minute at those stations during deactivations, Jackson said.Council members worried that the deactivations would lessen fire protection. The Fort Worth Professional Firefighters association opposed both plans and launched a campaign to get residents to contact their council members. David Dodson, a fire lieutenant and head of the firefighters’ intergovernmental affairs division, said “we’re good” with Tuesday’s news.The budget numbers don’t change under the solution announced Tuesday.“We’ve got to make our $1.9 million [budget cut], and it’s not an easy thing to do when your budget is mostly people,” Jackson said in the interview. Ninety percent of his operating budget goes to personnel, he said.Higgins, in addressing the council on the issue, acknowledged “much concern and unrest among our council and the citizens” on the fire staffing issue.Jackson “still has some real challenges in front of him,” Higgins said. “This is his good hard work, going back to the drawing board.”Public art programThe council’s debate over the public art program picked up again Tuesday. Councilman Danny Scarth proposed halving money for public art, urban village improvements and transit-oriented development in the proposed $293 million May 2014 bond election.Scarth’s goal is to come up with $18 million that the council could distribute to other projects in their districts for the bond program.Scarth said the delay of the TEX Rail commuter rail segment between downtown and southwest Fort Worth frees up money in the bond program for transit-oriented development.Councilman Jungus Jordan, who has proposed eliminating a 2 percent set-aside for public art in the bond program and redistributing the money to infrastructure, has also suggested that the council review the transit-oriented development pot in light of TEX Rail’s delay.
Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura