The mayor, plus five of the eight Fort Worth City Council members, are newbies, so they recently received a primer on the budget. Fort Worth Report was there to learn alongside them. Here’s what we found:
What’s in the budget? The city’s operating expenditure budget is about $1.8 billion this year, but the general fund budget receives the bulk of the City Council’s and the public’s attention. That’s because the general fund funds high-profile departments, such as libraries, parks, municipal court, police, fire and public works. And these departments all compete for the same dollars. The general fund last year was about $718 million. Most of that money came from either property taxes (55.32%) and sales taxes (23.42%).
And the bulk of the general fund (62%) went to the police and fire departments.
How is the budget set? With dispassionate data showing how to get the best service for the lowest cost, city staff prepare the budget with an underlying philosophy, City Manager David Cooke said. No. 1, the budget must be set from a long-term perspective.
“This is about making the city better over a long period of time,” he said. “Not just today, not just tomorrow, but also are we making the right decisions, the right resource allocation for the next generation, the generation that will come after that?”
With that, staff tries to prepare a budget that will maintain existing infrastructure and build more to accommodate the city’s expected growth of between 10,000 to 20,000 new residents every year, he said.
Because it has been past city councils’ goal to maintain or reduce the property tax rate, which is currently 74 cents per $100 valuation, and it’s best practice to not use money in reserves, Cooke said, trade-offs must be made. And that’s where council and citizen input come in.
“If we want to spend more money to, I don’t know, let’s say mow more frequently, are we willing to raise resources, meaning are we willing to raise the tax rate to do that? Or are we willing to cut something somewhere else? It’s not a bad conversation to have,” Cooke said.
Cooke and others in city management already have received requests from department heads for resources and have been meeting with them. They expect to get the assessed property and sales tax value number from the Tarrant Appraisal District on July 25. Cooke is forecasting that property tax revenues will be down by .75%, and sales tax will be up by 6.88%.
The City Council will hear the staff’s recommended capital budget on Aug. 3 and operating budget on Aug. 10. The council will be asked to approve the budget by Sept. 21. It must be approved by the end of the city’s fiscal year, which is Sept. 31.
How can I get involved? Attend virtual town hall meetings in the coming months, contact your City Council members or speak during the budget hearings at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 and Sept. 14 at City Hall, 200 Texas St., or online.
To speak at the budget hearings, register by 5 p.m. the day of the hearing. Register by clicking the speaker/comment card link on the agenda posted on fortworthtexas.gov. You also may register by calling the City Secretary’s Office at 817-392-6150 or 817-392-6150, faxing the request to 817-392-6196 or completing the speaker card in-person at the City Secretary’s Office at City Hall.
You may speak between three to six minutes, depending on how many people you represent.
This story was updated Monday to correct the tax rate.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.