Fort Worth expected to close budget gap for 2015

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 01, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Several years of cuts

Fiscal 2009

The city made cuts in its departments, reducing library hours and eliminating employee positions in the budget of $1.2 billion. The city eliminated positions, the Housing and Economic Development departments were merged into one department and the Health Department was eliminated, with animal control and restaurant inspections taken over by other departments. Other duties of the health department were moved to the county.

Fiscal 2010

The council approved $10 million in cuts, workers were forced to take eight days of unpaid leave, water bills were increased and City Hall essentially closed for an extra day around most holidays. The cuts included less money for road repairs, mowing and social service agencies. The day labor center and six of the seven city pools were closed. Employees, except for those in the police and fire departments, went without raises.

Fiscal 2011

Property and sales tax revenues continued to decline, resulting in $73 million in spending cuts from the $1.3 billion budget. The city cut 113 positions, according to budget records, and closed its last public swimming pool, against urging from community members.

Fiscal 2012

The council approved a $1.4 billion budget that included a raise for most employees and added 98 positions. It also restored library hours. To tackle more infrastructure projects, the city shifted a penny of the tax rate from operation and maintenance to debt service.

Fiscal 2013

The council approved a $1.4 billion budget that maintained most city services but cut funding for arts and social services, including a 25 percent cut in funding for the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. The city also cut pension and health benefits for general and police employees. The city’s contribution to pension is 20 percent of payroll.

Fiscal 2014

The city eliminated 113 positions from the $1.4 billion budget, most of which were vacant from attrition. The property tax rate stayed at 85.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, which amounts to $1,282.50 for a home appraised at $150,000. The tax rate has remained unchanged for nearly two decades.

Source: Star-Telegram archives

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For the first time since the city’s budget woes started in 2008, Fort Worth is not expected to face a significant shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.

Last year, the City Council faced an initial budget gap of $50 million, which it closed with sustainable cuts such as eliminating job positions, one-time budget savings and increased revenue projections.

“We think it will be balanced when they bring it forward,” Mayor Betsy Price said of the fiscal 2015 budget. “It has got to be balanced anyway, but we think they won’t be managing to a gap. The key will be that we have to hold the cuts we have made.”

Former City Manager Tom Higgins, who will stay with the city for a few weeks to help the transition of incoming City Manager David Cooke, said the city is in “much better shape this year than we have been in a long time.”

One reason for the optimism is a 7.4 percent jump in the city’s preliminary property valuations from the Tarrant Appraisal District. As appraised values increase, so do property tax collections.

City officials have also said they expect modest gains in sales tax revenue.

“We don’t think there is going to be one [a gap]. We think we are doing OK,” Higgins said. “We are doing some final looks at things, but we are very confident we are going to be OK.”

But he cautioned that “we aren’t going to have lots of money to spend.”

City officials have been battling with the budget since the recession began in 2008, which forced revenues to drop, making it difficult for the city to make ends meet. In one year, the council cut $73 million from the budget, laid off some employees and forced others to take days of unpaid leave.

In fiscal 2008, city employees totaled 6,562, compared with 6,359 in 2014, according to budget records.

“It was tough calls,” Price said. “It was tough work, but it had to be done.”

Higgins, who took over as city manager in 2011 and guided the city through some of its toughest budget cycles, said he feels good about next year’s.

He is proud that the city continued to put away a penny for infrastructure and of the city’s contributions to the pension fund, which doubled from 2005 to 2013.

“We didn’t not do those things during difficult times, because we thought it was the right thing to do. We had to cover those and that created some of our problems,” Higgins said.

The city staff is expected to present the budget to the council Aug. 12.

“It feels really good to be close,” Price said. “And it is a combination of the cuts we have made, the changes, the efficiency work we have done. City staff has done an excellent job working on the budget, working on our cuts. And we have been fortunate that our revenues have come up a little bit.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst

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