Fort Worth revenue picture strong going into budget cycle, director says

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth is looking at a strong revenue picture entering 2014-2015 city budget talks, with property tax revenues currently projected at 2.9 percent up and sales tax 5 percent up, the new chief financial officer, Aaron Bovos, said Tuesday.

Unlike in previous recessionary years where the budget office has asked department heads to propose worst-case, double-digit budget general fund cuts entering discussions, Bovos said he’s asked the departments for worst-case cuts of 2.8 percent. And on the opposite end, he’s also asked department heads what they would propose if they had budget increases.

“It’s a balancing act,” Bovos said in an interview after delivering a quarterly financial update to Mayor Betsy Price and City Council members.

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On the revenue picture, Bovos, named by the city in December to be CFO, “I feel we are in a really positive position. I feel very optimistic. It’s a really solid place to be.”

Bovos said the staff is still in the process of incorporating the impact of City Council changes to retiree healthcare and pensions to the budget numbers for this summer’s discussions.

His office is also establishing comprehensive five-year planning that better projects future impact of year-to-year budget decisions and incorporates the impact of capital expenditures, Bovos said.

If, for example, the staff or council wants to add an expense to a particular year’s budget, “we need to make sure that decision is sustainable” over the next several years, he said.

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Bovos said pay raises for general fund employees are “still under consideration” for the 2014-2015 year. The council, in approving the 2013-2014 fiscal budget, included a one-time year-end bonus based on projected budget savings that it said then could turn into a future pay raise.

“It’s absolutely still on the table,” Bovos said.

In his second-quarter update to the council, Bovos said the staff has narrowed its projected use of excess fund balance to meet a gap between revenue and expense in the general fund.

General fund revenue is now projected at $587.9 million, and expense at $602.15 million. The projected use of excess fund balance for the year is $14.2 million.

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That’s a change from earlier projections of $586.5 million of projected revenue and $604.3 million in projected expense, for a $17.8 million use of excess fund balance.

In approving the current year’s budget, Mayor Betsy Price predicted it was one that put the city on top of insignificant gaps heading into the budget cycles, after years of big deficits.

“It’s nice to see we’re under on expenses and over in revenue,” Price said Tuesday. “Nice change. First time we’ve been in that position heading into the budget.”