FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s a question a lot of North Texas cities have to ask in this economy — how do you keep the public safe while facing huge budget shortfalls?

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Fort Worth leaders think they found a way to do that.

Tuesday, the city signed a new contract with its police officers that will save the city money in the long run. The agreement lowers the annual pay raise police officers will receive between now and 2016.

The members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, keenly aware of the fact that most other city employees have gone years with no pay raise, voted overwhelmingly to approve the plan with 83% in favor.

“I think we’re very pleased,” said FWPOA President Stephen Hall. “I think the contract represents a long process between us and the city of Fort Worth.”

The new police contract offers officers raises adding up to a pay hike of 4-percent by 2016 with the raises coming in increments of one and two percent a year between now and then.

The agreement does not guarantee the hiring of more officers but allows the department to hire more civilians to help out in some areas.

All told, the contract will cost the city $34.5 million dollars through 2016.

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Budget planners say that is half the dollar amount of what pay raises would have cost under the old police contract — a big relief for a budget already facing shortfalls this year.

“Most of them understand the climate we’re in and are grateful for what their association and city management hammered out,” Mayor Betsy Price said.

“It includes some modest pay increases which we feel will help our city stay competitive in the market and will help protect our officers from the rising cost of health care and other issues that seem to eat away at our bottom line,” said Hall.

The civilians would only be used to help police officers on crime scenes and to staff a jail if the city opens one.

Police and city management say the civilians are trained for specific jobs without the extra costs of having to hire a certified police officer.

“P.D. has always used civilians,” Mayor Price said. “You’ll find that in large cities everywhere that they’ll use civilians for clerical and other chores. Its more balanced. You don’t have to pay for commissioning.”

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