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Arlington rang up $3 million general fund surplus last fiscal year

ARLINGTON -- The Texas Rangers pennant race, Cowboys Stadium events, red-light-camera fines and natural gas drilling contributed to an almost $3 million general fund surplus last fiscal year, officials said Wednesday.

Arlington brought in $4.6 million more in revenue -- and spent $3.2 million less than expected -- in the $197 million budget for fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, according to a report given to the City Council this week.

Some of the extra money came from collecting $787,809 more in court fines and fees, $546,673 more than expected in red-light-camera fines, and $1,644,600 more in gas well inspection fees than originally expected when the council created the budget in summer 2009. The city also cut costs by keeping 58 positions vacant.

After $3 million is placed in a reserve fund for health insurance, the leftover money will be set aside for future one-time expenditures, such as firetrucks, technology upgrades or building maintenance.

"This gives us the evidence that clearly there was a lot of work done in tightening the belt and looking for opportunities to be more efficient," Councilman Jimmy Bennett said.

City Manager Jim Holgersson and others said conservative budgeting during bleak economic times as well as some unexpected windfalls led to the surplus, which is still not as high as in some previous years. While other North Texas cities struggled with large shortfalls because of falling property values, Arlington was one of Tarrant County's better performers last year when it came to sales tax revenue.

"You had a full year of Cowboys Stadium operations and you had a team involved in the pennant race that went all the way to the World Series. Clearly that has got an impact," Deputy City Manager Trey Yelverton said of the city's sales tax collections, which were $525,675 higher than budgeted.

It isn't likely the surplus will be added to this fiscal year's $198 million general fund budget, officials said.

"This year's budget is balanced and on track to remain that way," city budget manager Mike Finley said.

Extra money

Tax revenues, which make up the bulk of the city's general fund, were $1.1 million higher than the $126.5 million budgeted, thanks largely to strong sales tax and liquor tax collections. Property tax revenue was $189,397 more than expected.

The biggest boost came from natural gas drilling. Arlington had budgeted to collect $280,000 from 19 anticipated gas well applications but actually received 134 applications last fiscal year. Drillers pay $14,500 to the city per gas well application and $2,000 for annual inspections, plus other fees, city staff said.

The nearly $800,000 increase in Arlington Municipal Court revenue, which totaled a record $11.7 million last fiscal year, is partly attributed to two successful warrant roundups. The city also collected $2.2 million in red-light-camera revenue, over a half-million dollars more than expected.

Streetlights

After hearing about the surplus, the only cost-saving measure that the council questioned making in year 2010 regarded streetlights.

When Arlington was facing a projected $11 million budget shortfall that year, the council authorized the city to turn off every other streetlight on major thoroughfares, such as Green Oaks Boulevard, Matlock Road and Collins Street. The move helped the city save about $190,000 a year, Public Works Director Bob Lowry said.

But on Tuesday council members Lana Wolff and Robert Rivera questioned whether the money saved justified keeping the lights off, especially with more than 100,000 out-of-town visitors coming for Super Bowl XLV. They were concerned about motorists finding it difficult to read street signs and worried that darkness encourages gang graffiti and crime.

The council did not make a decision Tuesday, but Rivera said he would like to see it up for consideration at budget time. The council will hold its first budget retreat to begin discussing fiscal 2012 in March.

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