FORT WORTH -- After recent years of cuts in staff and services, city officials unveiled a proposed 2012 budget Tuesday that includes a 3 percent pay increase for city employees and restores some hours at libraries but also has increases in water and storm-water fees.
Interim City Manager Tom Higgins said the proposed budget gives the city "a slight reprieve" from the cuts and layoffs of recent years while adding staff for police, fire and code compliance.
It also keeps all the libraries open.
The proposed $1.4 billion budget shows no change in the property tax rate of 85.5 cents per $100 valuation.
It includes a 5 percent increase in water fees, which will affect an average customer's bill by less than $2 a month, and a 14 percent increase in storm-water fees, which will add just under $1 a month to the average bill.
To close a $23.1 million budget gap, the city would use a $10.6 million reimbursement from the aviation fund, $5.8 million in departmental savings and $5 million from a one-time transfer from the capital projects fund. An additional $1.7 million is projected to come from savings on electricity and other items.
The budget gap, once estimated at $30.4 million, improved as the city saw $7.8 million more in appraised property values than had been projected.
But Higgins said the pause in cuts might be short-lived, stressing that a downturn in the economy could force "a midyear correction" in the budget.
Mayor Betsy Price, while pleased with the initial presentation, said she still has concerns about the use of one-time funds to balance the 2012 budget and warned that property values could stay flat or drop, which would affect the 2013 budget.
"We have to be very careful with this budget," Price said.
Council members also expressed concerns about the uncertainty of the economy, saying the city staff's plan to monitor expenditures daily is warranted.
Councilman Joel Burns also said he is troubled by the use of one-time funds to close the budget gap.
"I have some concerns that we are balancing this off of our fund balance," Burns said. "This isn't going to work next year because we are spending it this year."
The budget includes adding 98 positions, some of which are mandated by contracts with police and firefighters.
But it also includes 24 for code compliance and 24 for libraries. Some of these aren't new positions but were added back to the budget after being taken out.
Budget director Horatio Porter said city staff chose to avoid layoffs and furloughs to give the city a chance to "catch our breath" from the constant cycle of cuts in recent years.
'A detailed plan'
At the Aug. 23 meeting, Porter said, employees will present a citywide management plan designed to strengthen accountability and increase performance.
"It will be a detailed plan," Porter said. "Things that aren't working are things that will be eliminated."
The proposed budget also shifts a penny of the tax rate from operation and maintenance to debt service, which allows the city to tackle more of its infrastructure projects.
Currently, the city allocates about 16.9 percent of its property tax to fund infrastructure, the lowest of any major city in the state.
Councilman Sal Espino said that the slow pace of road repairs is the No. 1 complaint among residents and that it will be difficult to go back to voters for another bond project in 2014 unless bond money from previous years starts getting spent.
"We've got $150 million sitting in the bank," Espino said.
"How do we start turning dirt?"
Espino and Councilman Zim Zimmerman also acknowledged the challenge of tackling the council's desire to reopen some of the city's swimming pools.
Zimmerman said that council members would end up wrangling over "$50 million of this budget, not $540 million" and that they can't make demands of city staff without offering some solutions.
"Take swimming pools for example: What's a realistic plan?" Zimmerman said.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698