FORT WORTH -- Updated revenue projections for the city's upcoming fiscal year show a $30.6 million budget gap, an improvement of nearly $1 million from estimates made in February.
While the shortfall is far less than the $77 million that Fort Worth faced for fiscal 2011 and the $59 million for fiscal 2010, city staffers said Tuesday that tough decisions again must be made.
"There aren't any easy solutions left for us," budget officer Horatio Porter said in a pre-council meeting.
Still, city staffers have set goals for the 2012 proposed budget of avoiding more drastic measures that were part of the process in previous years.
Among the goals are no layoffs, no service disruptions and the possibility of a 3 percent raise for employees. Those raises would cost about $4.8 million, meaning cuts would have to be made elsewhere.
Interim City Manager Tom Higgins cautioned that city staffers have a lot of work before they can recommend raises when the proposed budget is presented Aug. 9.
"We're not there; we're a long, long way from being there," Higgins said.
He added that the budget will not include a recommendation for a tax rate increase or decrease.
"It's our feeling that the tax rate is the responsibility of the City Council and that if you choose to raise it or lower it -- or keep it where it's currently at -- that's certainly your decision," Higgins said.
Mayor Mike Moncrief, who will leave before the budget is hashed out in August, said council members face hard decisions.
"The last couple of gaps that we've had to close have literally cut deep into the muscle if not the marrow of the bone itself -- yet there are going to be some difficult choices for this council to make," he said.
But there was hopeful news.
May sales tax figures showed signs that Fort Worth's economy is slowly improving. The May report shows collections of $10,629,138 in March, up from the $10,169,658 in March 2010. But an audit adjustment of $1,112,477 by one company reduced the net collection to $9,280,580.
Excluding that one-time audit adjustment, Porter said, sales tax figures indicate that the economy is growing, just at a much slower rate than several years ago.
"We're recovering, but I don't [think] we'll recover to the level we were before," Porter said. He also said preliminary property appraisals are essentially flat this year, with an adjusted net taxable value of $40.9 billion, which is better than last year, when the city saw a 2 percent decline.
Final appraised values will come out in July.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698