Fort Worth approves $1.4B budget, closes general fund shortfall


A. Lee Graham

The city of Fort Worth’s newly approved fiscal 2014 budget reinstates 12 firefighter positions and retains street maintenance funding, just two elements of the $1.4 billion financial plan that were eliminated in a prior version.

By unanimous vote, the City Council on Sept. 17 followed several public meetings and budget workshops in approving the plan.

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“What you’ve voted on today is a $1.4 billion proposal that’s bridged a $40 million gap,” said Mayor Betsy Price, referring to an estimated general fund shortfall.

But thanks to nearly $3 million in projected revenue growth, city officials cobbled together a balanced budget expected to help further align expenditures with revenues while minimizing service impacts to residents.

“We’ve been able to stay within the guidelines that we started the year out with,” said Jay Chapa, interim director of the city’s financial management services.

Those guidelines, used to formulate the budget, were keeping the city’s tax rate constant at 85.5 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, continuing to invest in infrastructure improvements, maintaining the fund balance at 10 percent, continuing to align revenues and expenditures, minimizing the effects of budgetary cuts on residents, and investing in employees.

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A penny of the tax rate approved to be moved from the operating budget to debt service to boost debt capacity for infrastructure projects. Each penny moved reduces the city’s operating budget by $4.1 million.

The general fund portion of the budget totals $570 million compared with the current year’s $583.8 million total.

Budgets in each of the last several years have focused on different priorities. In what city officials dubbed a recession-driven budget, fiscal 2010 saw more than 200 layoffs, eight unpaid furlough days and other cost-cutting measures. In the so-called fiscal 2012 recovery budget, vacant police officer positions were filled, employees received a 3 percent across-the-board salary increase and a penny was shifted to debt service.

And in what officials called the fiscal 2013 maintenance budget, 17 staff positions were eliminated and 15 cents were shifted to debt service for capital projects.

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“The proposed 2014 budget moves us closer to fully addressing the structural imbalance between the city’s revenue and what we spend on an annual basis,” said City Manager Tom Higgins at a previous council meeting.

The newly approved budget also reduces projected police and fire vacancies by 46 positions and 36 vacancies, respectively, echoing Price’s public safety priority.

“We aren’t laying off police officers, and we aren’t laying off firefighters or deactivating fire companies,” Price said. “Public safety continues to remain a top priority with the council and this city.”