The Fort Worth City Council is holding two straight days of public budget workshops beginning today. Check back in this space for continuous updates throughout the day.
TRANSPORTATION/PUBLIC WORKS CUTS
Citizens would lose 34 lane miles of street maintenance, under the $1.48 million proposed budget, Transportation/Public Works director Doug Wiersig told council members. Alleyway mowing would go to $189,680 from $379,300, or to 520 segments from 823, he said. In the current year's budget, the city cut alley mowing by 50 percent.
On alleys, T/PW would continue to work with police and code compliance to "get the biggest return on the ones that we can afford to do."
Councilman Sal Espino questioned both cuts. Council member Kelly Allen Gray said the T/PW presentation was the "most disturbing" she'd heard during Thursday's workshop, saying the issues are critical to the central city.
"Ultimately, you get to the point, where if you don't have the maintenance dollars, you can't do the maintenance," Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa responded.
Gray said the city faces a "tough sell" in the upcoming bond election if it can't promise to maintain streets it wants voters to authorize money to build.
MEACHAM AIRPORT ADMINISTRATION BUILDING RENOVATION
The planned renovation will begin in March 2014, with completion in July 2015, Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa told council members.
COUNCIL BACK FROM LUNCH: INFRASTRUCTURE DISCUSSION NEXT
FIREFIGHTERS QUESTION STAFFING CUTS
JIm Tate, president of the Fort Worth Firefighters Association, says response times in some parts of Fort Worth outside Loop 820 will be worse than the average if the city reduces the number of authorized firefighters.
"Those averages are going to tell the story," Tate told reporters.
But more importantly, he said, "in a year when tax revenues are up, why are they cutting public safety? Why are they also increasing homesowners exposure to higher insurance premiums?"
The fire department's budget will be down on the 36 reductions, all vacant positions tied to the department's vacation relief pool.
Tate raised the risk of diluting Fort Worth's insurance ratings, leading to higher homeowner insurance premiums.
"I don't believe you get a chance to get a do-over," Tate said of the once-every-several-years insurance review that last occurred in 2007.
Councilman Sal Espino, in an interview, noted the city, since the last rating, added more fire stations and staffing. "We've also got a lot of road improvements, which I think will help," he said.
The city's upcoming May 2014 bond program also has two fire stations in it right now, he noted.
Of response times, he said, "we need to look at response times both inside the loop and outside the loop."
The council''s broken for lunch and will return at 2 p.m.
The proposed budget would cut five animal control officers, about a third of the department's day to day resources, and would take code compliance to 32 officers from 37, Code Compliance director Brandon Bennett said.
The department would focus on problematic "hotspots," mostly in the city's older core, to optimize use of public resources, Bennett said.
Councilman Danny Scarth said, "to me, it could be a false savings to not fill some of these positions."
FIRE RESPONSE TIMES
Fire Chief Rudy Jackson says the loss of 36 vacant firefighter positions, all assigned to the vacation relief pool, will likely result in an increase in response times.
"We do expect to see an average increase in in our response times," he told council members.
The fire department would "deactivate" four fire companies on average per day, he said. Deactivations would be limited to the 12 of the city's 42 fire stations that have double companies, he said.
On average, response times for those stations could increase by one minute and 48 seconds during deactivations, he said.
"For some incidents, it will be lower, for some incidents, it could be higher," he said.
The city's fire response time goal is five minutes, but it's longer in far North Fort Worth.
POLICE NEXT UP
“We are in a good position here,” Chief Jeff Halstead told council members on staffing, noting that even though the police are losing 46 authorized officer jobs in the proposed budget, the department has had an average of “well over” that in recent years.
Halstead said the department has 67 vacancies this morning. Normal annual attritiion is 60. "I would be very fortunate" to graduate two academy classes of 30 officers each year, he said.
"In the best case world, from your chief of police, I don't think I can get us to zero vacancies next year," Halstead said.
"We're OK and we can take a breath," he said.
The city is building a new police and fire training center in south Fort Worth that will significantly increase the department's training capacity.
In the meantime, the city's new lateral hiring policy, reached in the new police contract approved earlier this year, eases the ability of the police to hire officers from other cities. That's an important took for the pollice, Halstead said.
The department's proposed budget is up for next year. Key cost increases include $1.36 million from the new contract, which includes pay raises; $236,241 in increased costs of the city's jail contract with Mansfield; and $256,376 in technology improvements.
"We have the best police department in the nation, we have the best police chief in the nation," Councilman Jungus Jordan told Halstead. "We're going to do what we need to do to make sure you've got resources to get the job done."
"This council remains committed to public safety," Mayor Betsy Price said.
The council broke to attend this morning’s official handoff of the Texas Weslyean University law school downtown to Texas A&M University.
ATHLETIC FIELD MAINTENANCE CUTS
The proposed city budget contains a $118,000 cut for athletic field maintenance. That’s worrying some council members.
Councilman Dennis Shingleton, in a daylong budget workshop this morning, said he fears the same kind of past deferred maintenance that helped sack the city’s swimming pools.
“I don’t want the same thing to happen to athletic fields,” he said.
HEALTHCARE AUDIT SAVINGS
A dependent verification audit generated $3.6 million in savings in the upcoming 2014 budget, Susan Alanis, assistant city manager, told City Council members.
While the proposed police and Crime Control and Prevention District budgets are up, police would still see a cut of 46 vacant and authorized positions. City staffers noted those positions have been long empty.
“We looked at those positions very very hard,” Charles Daniels, assistant city manager, told council members this morning.
If there’s an uptick in response times or crime during the next budget year, “then we would have to come back to the council and make those adjustments accordingly,” he said.
The proposed budget contains a $200,000 increase for the taking out of trees on city parks property killed by drought.
Staffers got more aggressive with their revenue outlook for 2014, but it’s still conservative, City Manager Tom Higgins told council members. Higgins noted a slew of new, soft economic data out today, including a Macy’s report.
“While we feel good about it, we still want to keep that conservative approach,” Higgins said of the city’s revenue picture.
Mayor Betsy Price opened today’s budget workshoip by saying this year’s budget cycle presents a “remarkable opportunity” to balance the budget with sustainable cuts and ensure stable outlooks in future years.
“I believe we can get spending in check and minimize the impact on our services,” she told council members.
She commended City Manager Tom HIggins' budget plan. “We must show the will and determination to stick with it,” she said.
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter