FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Despite years of slashing jobs and services, the Fort Worth City Council was told Tuesday that the budget is still $31 million short in sustaining existing services over the next two years.
“We don’t have solutions at this point for the $31 million gap,” said Horatio Porter, the city’s chief budget officer. “It’s still to be determined. But there aren’t any easy solutions left for us.”
The city finds itself not only looking at more cuts, but straining to keep up with its growth. Since 2001, the population has increased by 208,000 people, about a 39 percent increase.
In that time, the city’s property tax rate remained the same and the city went from spending .24 cents of each .85 cents collected to its current rate of .14 cents.
And when property values plummeted, the city was suddenly bringing in millions less a year in revenue.
“I have all the confidence in the world in this council,” Mayor Mike Moncrief said during a meeting Tuesday. “You’ve been there, you’ve done that. You’ve got the T-shirts. You’ve got the battle scars.”
While the council was also told that sales tax revenue was trending upward during the first part of the year, it still won’t be enough for Fort Worth to take on debt for any new major expansion projects to match its growth.
One option facing the council is to shift a penny of tax money from services to debt. But that one-penny comes at a high price: At least 80 employees would have to be laid off.
Another possible solution is to shift property tax money from operating expenses to debt services that finance large projects over an extended period of time.
Currently, the city collects .85 cents for every $100 of property value in the city. Of that, .71 cents goes toward paying for services and salaries. Only .14 cents is set aside to pay for past-due construction, like a new police and fire department training center.
This money also helps handle premature street failures, the city’s library master plan and other infrastructure improvements.
So while Fort Worth assigns just 16.9 percent of its property taxes to infrastructure, Houston gives 27.4 percent of its. Dallas is even higher, assigning 33.2 percent.
“I think we know that with the upcoming negotiations with police and fire, that’s not going to be an easy road,” Moncrief said.
The city will soon renegotiate salaries and benefits with police and fire associations. City workers haven’t had a pay raise in three years, and many are anxious to see even a modest pay hike.
So while city planners would like to oblige, the recurring question that Fort Worth has dealt with for many budget cycles returns: How?