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Fort Worth eliminating 100 jobs in proposed budget

FORT WORTH — More than 100 jobs will be eliminated as City Hall copes with a tough budget year and works through a series of book-keeping problems, according to a proposed budget released Tuesday by the Fort Worth City Council.

The property tax rate will stay the same, but Fort Worth residents will notice higher water bills and shorter hours at public libraries. The number of city employees will drop for the first time since the early 1990s.

The only significant new program in the proposed budget unveiled to Fort Worth City Council members is $3 million to fund the city's share of the "Directions Home" program to help homeless people.

City Manager Dale Fisseler said anyone whose position is eliminated will have first shot at any open positions in the city workforce

"Obviously, this is a very tough budget," Fisseler said. "We're very confident and very optimistic that we'll place all those folks somewhere else in the city."

Total city spending will grow by 2 percent, to $1.2 billion, a far slower increase than in the last few years.

Most cities have been dealing with a downturn in the economy, particularly housing values. But Fort Worth is in a tougher spot because it has spent the last three years trying to sort out its finances. The city's annual audits are months overdue, because of an aging computer system and problems in the finance staff.

In February, the auditors discovered that there were millions of dollars less in the city's reserve fund than previously estimated. City policy requires 10 percent of the operating budget to be kept in reserve. In response, Fisseler ordered a hiring freeze and other cuts to help get the reserve back to a safe level.

The city also began looking for ways to consolidate departments and cut the number of positions.

The Public Health Department will be eliminated, and its functions will be split among other departments, including Code Compliance and Community Relations.

The Housing Department will merge into the Economic Development Department.

The Engineering Department will merge into the Transportation and Public Works Department, although some engineering functions will be handled by other departments.

The only departments that were not considered for cuts were police and fire. The Fire Department will get 28 new firefighters to make up for attrition, and the Police Department will grow by 39 positions.

The budget calls for a 3 percent across-the-board raise for all employees. About half the employees will be eligible for longevity raises up to five percent. There was no across-the-board raise last year.

Impact on residents

No tax rate increase, although individual homeowners' tax bills may go up because of property appraisal increases. The bill on an average-value home, with no exemptions, will rise from $974 to $1,029.

Water rates will increase by 6 percent, an average of about $1.54 per month.

Storm water fees, which are used to pay for drainage improvements, will go up by about 80 cents a month for a typical home.

Library hours will be reduced, and some but not all branches will be closed on Sundays.

Street maintenance funds that were cut by $1.5 million last year will be restored.

Where it goes from here

The Fort Worth City Council must approve the proposed budget by Oct. 1, when the fiscal year starts.

Council members are scheduled to hold a budget retreat Thursday and Friday, during which they'll get more information from individual department heads.

The council will hold public hearings on the budget Sept. 2 and 9, before voting on the budget Sept. 16.

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