August 9, 2012

Fort Worth budget includes increases in water, sewer charges and recreation fees

City budget planners look for ways to raise revenue to offset a $49 million shortfall in the city's $583 million budget for fiscal 2013.

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FORT WORTH -- Fort Worth's proposed budget includes fee increases for water, parks, golf, and planning and development, largely to help cover the higher costs of providing those services.

The proposed increase in water rates would generate 3.2 percent more revenue, and proposed sewer rates 2.06 percent more, water officials said, declining to go into more detail pending a department presentation to the City Council today.

The Parks Department is proposing increases that would add $289,055 to the $1.3 million in park fees in the 2013 general fund budget, including higher entry fees at the Log Cabin Village and rates for the Marine Creek aquatics center and repaired Forest Park pool, both set to open next year.

The prices for pool ID cards, pool rental fees, youth athletic activities and field rentals would also rise.

Fees would increase by varying amounts at the Meadowbrook, Pecan Valley and Rockwood golf courses, but not Sycamore Creek, which is closed for renovations and is scheduled to reopen Labor Day weekend.

The increases would add $37,277 to golf's $4.9 million in revenue for 2013.

Parks Director Richard Zavala said Marine Creek's fees were set to recoup 66 percent in annual expenditures under the city's master aquatics plan for new pools.

Forest Park fees are set to recoup only half of expenditures, because it won't be a new facility, Zavala said.

"If we could look at all our fees like that, it'd be great," Zavala said.

Marine Creek's admission will be $4 and $5 for youth and adults, respectively, and Forest Park's will be $3 and $4.

The golf fee increases are intended to help balance the golf fund's budget -- the city's golf enterprise is supposed to sustain itself -- and adjust to competitors' fees, Zavala said. Also in the equation, the parks staff projects that half of the rounds at the soon-to-close Z Boaz golf course will shift to other Fort Worth courses, Zavala said.

Weekday and weekend morning fees at the popular Pecan Valley River course, for example, would rise $1 to $22 and $28, respectively, for adults. The junior rate for any time on the course would rise $2 to $15.

Also, the Planning and Development Department proposes to increase fees for the first time since 2006, which would raise the 2013 fee revenue by $863,000 to $12.3 million.

Gas well fees

Planning and Development Director Randle Harwood said the current fees don't cover the department's costs, which include staff, technology and capital expenses for things like vehicle replacement.

The gas well fee, for example, would rise to $600 from $500, generating a projected $200,000, the largest of the proposed increases in terms of gross revenue.

The city has spoken to major natural gas companies such as Chesapeake about the increase, Harwood said.

"They're not happy about it, but they understand the necessity of keeping a safe gas field in Fort Worth," Harwood said.

Harwood told council members during a budget presentation Thursday that he wants to bring up the idea again next fiscal year of converting his department into a self-sustaining enterprise fund like golf, an idea that has met skepticism in the business community.

Mayor Betsy Price noted the skepticism and asked Harwood to lay out the pros and cons to the council in his future presentation.

In an interview, Harwood said he can serve customers better, a council priority, in a self-sustained enterprise.

"This year, I had to keep frozen positions," Harwood said. "If I'm an enterprise fund, I don't have to do that."

The biggest strike against becoming a self-sustaining fund is that he'd have to cut expenses "right away" if development and related permitting business dropped precipitously, Harwood said.

Fort Worth's water impact fees for new development are proposed to drop, reflecting lower demands for new capacity to be built within several years. Someone building a house, for example, would currently expect to pay a water impact fee of $867. That would drop to $469.

Wastewater impact fees, however, are proposed to rise, reflecting demands for facility construction, including a wastewater plant planned for far west Fort Worth.

For the smallest meter, the impact fee would rise to a proposed $525 from $185.

The Water Department has scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. Sept. 11 during the City Council meeting on the impact fee changes.

The parks and golf fees will go to the Parks Advisory Board for review at 4 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Deborah Beggs Moncrief Botanic Center at the Botanic Garden, 3220 Botanic Garden Drive.

The council is scheduled to vote Sept. 18 on the final budget and plans a series of public meetings until then.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808

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