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Fort Worth budget plan pares funding for street repair, the arts

08/07/2012 11:54 PM

08/08/2012 9:06 PM

FORT WORTH -- City officials proposed a $583 million general fund budget Tuesday that creates more room for investment in police, fire and transportation needs, closes a $49 million funding gap largely by using surplus funds from 2012 and holds the line on taxes but includes a water fee increase.

The proposed budget for next year also pares funding for some street repairs and mowing.

In a move certain to spark debate, it also trims spending on the Arts Council of Tarrant County, the United Way of Tarrant County, minority chambers of commerce, and city partnerships for the homeless and gang intervention.

It gives no employee pay raises, increases employee health insurance contributions 8 percent, freezes 17 job openings and contains minimal potential layoffs. The city is reclassifying about 20 library jobs and is working on moving displaced employees into other positions.

"It's not a comfortable budget, but it's basic city services: infrastructure, police, water, fire," Mayor Betsy Price said in an interview after the presentation.

"Then we'll look at everything else."

Given that the funding gap is closed largely by one-time gains and savings, Price said, "it's also a daunting budget, because it's an all-in budget."

Horatio Porter, the city's budget officer, said there's a good likelihood of no layoffs.

In the water budget, separate from the general fund budget, water fees would rise about 2 percent to cover increased costs of raw water, Porter said.

At a budget retreat this week, council members are also expected to discuss whether to increase planning and development fees.

The arts council, which would see its $1.06 million in city funding pared 25 percent, said it would publish a detailed report showing arts' economic impact on the area next week.

The arts council said Tarrant County arts generate $84 million in annual economic activity, including more than 3,000 jobs, and more than $73 million in household income.

The City Council is scheduled to vote Sept. 18 on a final budget.

It scheduled a series of public meetings and hearings, starting with two all-day budget retreats Thursday and Friday at City Hall.

The budget, 4 percent higher than this year's, helps fund the new police and fire training center and radio communications system, brings on a new fire training class, adds to the victim assistance and animal shelter staffs, increases maintenance for the Forest Park and Marine Creek pools and the conversion of the Z Boaz Golf Course to a park, and staffs the soon-to-open Chisholm Trail community center in southwest Fort Worth.

Besides the 8 percent health premium increase that the city is sharing with employees, the budget includes costs for next year's council elections and adds increases in contracts for the jail, property appraisals, Fort Worth Zoo management, audits, economic development and firefighter compensation.

The city will enter talks this fall on a new contract with its firefighters.

Police and fire services make up more than half the budget.

The city's continued population growth will maintain upward pressure on the budget, Porter said.

On the revenue side, the city's taxable property values are a projected $43.1 billion as of late July, up from $42.1 billion a year ago, and the city expects to generate 2.4 percent more property tax revenue next year using the same tax rate.

Commercial values drove most of the increase, Porter said.

Property tax revenue is projected at $288.9 million, half the general fund budget.

The budget also projects sales taxes -- the second-largest revenue stream -- at $108.8 million, up from $102.2 million in last year's budget.

The city's property tax rate is 85.5 cents per $100 of valuation.

The budget would shift a penny of that to debt service from operations for the second year in a row, which would increase the city's debt capacity to $371 million from $224 million.

That's important as Fort Worth tries to figure out capital demands that include more than $1 billion in major road work.

As the city and council move forward with the budget discussions, "we need to have another discussion about how we bridge the $1 billion infrastructure gap we do have," Councilman Sal Espino, who represents the north-side District 2, said during a budget presentation.

The proposed budget uses $40 million in unbudgeted revenue increases and savings banked this year.

The remaining $9 million would come from the other cuts and frozen job openings.

Proposed budget cuts

City staff proposed several cuts in contract funding to help balance next year's budget.

Program

Cut

Remaining funding

Street maintenance

$204,762

$19.7 million

Impact: 2.5 lane miles won't be resurfaced.

Directions Home

239,336

2.15 million

Impact: Partnership provides housing services for homeless.

Park mowing

231,349

1.87 million

Impact: Mowing every 21 days instead of 14, except during rainy season.

City right-of-way mowing

250,000

Impact: Better pricing, no impact on service.

Coming Up Gang

187,600

1.68 million

Impact: Gang intervention partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs;

would cut far north Fort Worth location. Nine remaining locations.

Arts Council of Tarrant County

266,564

799,691

Impact: Less funding on contract in place for years.

Alley maintenance

350,000

332,184

Impact: Longer response times and fewer alleys mowed;

responsibility falls back on homeowners.

United Way of Tarrant County

70,250

210,750

Impact: Less funding on contract in place for years.

Hispanic, black chambers

63,252

253,008

Impact: Cuts for Fort Worth Black and Hispanic chambers of commerce.

Banking fees

400,000

Impact: Interest income expected to offset fees.

Ambulance authority pilot program

300,000

Impact: No resumption of pilot program for far north Fort Worth the city deemed didn't work.

Miscellaneous contracts

367,000

Impact: Minimal, the city says.

Source: City of Fort Worth

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808

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