Fort Worth expected to close budget gap for 2015

06/30/2014 4:44 PM

07/01/2014 8:44 AM

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.

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