By Scott Nishimura
Fort Worth City Council members on Tuesday approved a $589.7 million general fund budget that uses a small surplus to balance revenues and expenditures, gives general employees a 4 percent pay raise, and boosts positions in several departments to keep up with the city’s fast growth.
The budget keeps the city’s property tax rate the same at 85.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, where it’s been for years. That amounts to $1,710 for a home appraised at $200,000 for tax purposes.
The council made $5.4 million in late changes Tuesday to the $1.5 billion citywide budget that included 13 more code compliance officers, reinstated longevity supplement pay for firefighters, and augmented the Crime Control Prevention District budget to account for higher projected sales tax revenues. The budget is the first in several years that did not come with a significant gap between revenue and expenditures the city staff and council had to close before voting on it.
“I think this is a very sustainable budget and a very reasonable budget,” Mayor Betsy Price said.
Council member W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, who handed off his post as mayor pro ten to Counclman Sal Espino at Tuesday’s meeting, said the council has “had some tough decisions to make” in the recent years’ post-recessionary budget.
“I think the city is far better for those kinds of actions being taken,” he said.
With projected property tax and sales tax revenue now strong, Zimmerman said “I challenge the City Council and the staff with not regressing as we get more funds in here.”
The general fund budget uses $4.1 million in excess fund balance to close the final gap. The citywide budget includes increases in water and sewer fees.
Council members voted 8-1 on the budget, with Councilman Jungus Jordan voting no.
Jordan, who represents the south Fort Worth Wedgwood-Candleridge District 6, renewed his three-year-old objection to a $14 million payment to a trust for retiree healthcare benefits, arguing that the council was obligating future councils, was effectively paying twice for future healthcare, and can’t know today what healthcare costs will look like years from now.
“We don’t know what they’re going to be next year,” he said.
New City Manager David Cooke has committed not to make the payment before a mid-year review.
“The money isn’t going anywhere,” Price said. “It’ll still be available to spend, should we need it.”
Council member Ann Zadeh, who represents the South Side District 9, asked that the mid-year review include the potential restoration of the number of historic preservation staff members. The historic preservation officer for the Fairmount Neighborhood Association spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting in favor of more historic preservation resources.
The general fund budget, up 3 percent from this year’s, adds money for the start of operations at the city’s new police and fire training facility next year, implementation of the $292 million 2014 bond program that voters approved, and recommendations that the city’s volunteer task force on homelessness recently made.