Residents of the 109 will not see any specific cuts in service and the taxes will not be raised because of the new $1.3 billion budget unanimously approved Sept. 21 for the 2011 fiscal year, Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman said.
Cuts were made to close the $73 million gap in the city’s general fund without increasing property taxes, and proposals to close three libraries and merge the city’s parks and library departments were delayed pending a review.
The largest budget cuts came in eliminating 184 city worker positions, with 102 of them involving layoffs.
Zimmerman said it was too early to tell how the layoffs would affect the area but if the city did its job right there should be little effect on city services.
“In any organization you probably have more people you are paying to do the job than the job actually takes,” he said. “If you figure out that and you make the appropriate work reductions it shouldn’t affect the city services.”
Employees whose positions were eliminated will end their jobs Nov. 5. Those employees will be given preferential consideration for vacant city jobs they are qualified for.
This is the third consecutive year city positions have been cut. The 2009 budget eliminated 116 positions and the 2010 budget eliminated 205 positions.
“None of us like to see this happen but it’s one of the things that happen when you’re starting to cut budget,” Zimmerman said.
City employees will not get a raise, but they will not have to take any unpaid furlough this year and pay will be restored to the 2009 levels.
Other cuts include closure of the city’s last public pool, the Forest Park Pool, and freezing 36 vacant police officer positions.
Southwest Fort Worth Alliance Spokesperson Tolli Thomas said area residents would not see any significant differences because of the new budget but that the changes were more on the minor side.
While the property tax rate will remain the same, water bills and fees will increase. The monthly water fee will increase by an average of 2.54 percent across all customer classes and the wastewater fee will increase by an average of 2.23 percent.
Thomas said that fees are nothing more than taxes that cannot be deducted.
“Additional fees are just taxes that I can’t deduct from my income statement at the end of the year,” Thomas said. “They are the same thing but without any benefit for me.”
Frisco Heights Neighborhood Association President Alex Clarke said that there were shortfalls in the budget such as the city service cutbacks and the combining of city departments. Clarke said that he thought tax increases might be inevitable in the future because of the difficult situation cities across the country are finding themselves in financially.
Zimmerman said one thing residents may notice under the new budget is the restored citywide mowing schedule for parks and rights of way. The mowing schedule was reduced in last year’s budget cuts but was restored because city officials were not happy with the results.
“When you talk about a place where people want to live but the grass is knee high, that’s not a good deal,” he said. “Parks could not be used because the grass was too deep.”
Gas well revenues of $6.8 million would be used to support current critical needs in road repairs, maintenance and cleaning. Zimmerman said the maintenance would be all over the city and it was too early to tell the specific projects in 109.
An “unfortunate predicament”
City Council members began budget discussions in January to cut spending to offset decreases in property tax revenue caused by the recession and increases in upcoming Super Bowl costs as well as pension costs and contractual raises in police and firefighter pay.
The property tax rate of 85.5 cents per $100 of property value is the highest among big cities in Texas.
“You hear people say Fort Worth has one of the highest tax rates but it also has one of the lowest average house valuations,” Zimmerman said.
The lower valuations contributed to the budget gap and necessitated hearings and workshops between council members, residents and city employees to decide where to cut the city spending.
An August version of the proposed budget included cutting $5 million from the Fire Department budget, merging the city’s parks and library departments and closing three libraries.
Council members decided to restore those reductions after input throughout the month. The 36 vacant fire positions scheduled to be cut were restored and the recommendation to deactivate some fire companies was removed. The consolidation of the Parks and Library departments was delayed pending a review and all public libraries will remain open pending a six-month review of library services.
“Several council members wouldn’t participate in a budget that would close the libraries,” Zimmerman said.
Cuts did come in closing the Forest Park pool, the city’s last public pool, reducing maintenance at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and redistribution of community relations services.
“It’s an unfortunate predicament to have to say we want this or this when these are programs and amenities that have lasted for decades,” Thomas said. “It’s an unfortunate thing that we are willing to make cuts to programs that are routinely used.”
Zimmerman said the Forest Park Pool had deteriorated to the point where it could cost up to a million dollars to put back in service.
“It was just financially one of those things we just can’t afford at the moment,” he said. “There was no way we could find the money to put that pool back in service.”
If tax revenues remain flat, the city staff is estimating the 2012 budget deficit will be more than $31 million. City officials are looking into city employees’ health care and pension benefits, which will have significant impact on the city’s future budgets.
A 20-year plan will be established to fund retiree benefits for those under past pension plans. City staff recommended the city reduce future pension costs by putting a benefit system in place for new employees. These measures would not affect the 2011 budget.
Thomas said she thought that too much concern was being placed on the cuts and not enough on where the actual spending was going.
“We are too busy concerning ourselves with the cuts being proposed because those are important programs,” Thomas said. “We’re not busy enough looking at where we are spending our money, which is bringing us to this type of issue. Those losses need to be questioned heavily.”