Public safety a focus for city’s 2017 operating budget

Streams of numbers and brightly colored charts continue to make their way through the City of Fort Worth as officials discuss the budget for the 2017 fiscal year.

After talking about the proposed 2017 capital budget the week before, City Manager David Cooke came back to the city council Aug. 9 to talk about how to spend a proposed operating budget of $1.65 billion.

“This budget continues to focus on public safety and our neighborhoods and transparency and still deliver the services that we need while managing to the growth that we’re having,” Mayor Betsy Price said.

The proposed $1.65 billion for fiscal year 2017 is a 2.47 percent increase from last fiscal year’s budget of $1.61 billion. Of the $1.65 billion, the majority of the spending will go toward the city’s General Fund, which pays for police, fire, library, economic development and other departments. About $639 will go in the general fund, with most of the money going toward public safety with $402.9 million.

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Part of the spending plan for public safety includes replacing the police department’s aging helicopter with a new one, as well as adding nearly 40 new positions to the police department.

The proposed budget adds staff to other departments as well, such as 24 positions for the fire department and five positions for Planning and Development to help deal with the growing queue of building projects.

In addition, Cooke talked about the budget for the Crime Control and Prevention District (CCPD), a separate fund set aside for a citywide crime prevention initiative. The proposed budget of approximately $74.9 million is about a 13 percent decrease from last fiscal year’s budget, which was about $86 million. Terry Hanson, assistant director of the city’s performance and budget department, said the decrease is due to last year’s budget allocating more money toward facility projects like the new sixth police division. The CCPD Board is scheduled to meet Aug. 16 and Aug. 25 to discuss the budget before sending it back to the city council for final approval on Sept. 13.

As part of the city’s 2017 fiscal year capital budget, Cooke is proposing a 2-cent cut in the property tax rate, which would lower the current tax rate from 85.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 83.5 cents. The proposal comes in light of property values increasing nearly 9 percent this year. Mayor Betsy Price said she’d like for property owners to not have to pay more taxes due to the increased valuations.

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Councilman Jungus Jordan requested that the city manager use future budget meetings to explain how the city came up with the 2-cent rate cut.

“You didn’t just pick it out of the air,” Jordan told Cooke. “We need to understand where that came from.”

The city council voted Aug. 9 to initiate the process of lowering the property tax rate, with plans to hold public hearings on Aug. 23 and Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. during the council’s regular meeting. The council’s final vote on the tax rate is scheduled for Sept. 13.