Cowtown: $50 Million in the Hole

Fort Worth city leaders learn of projected budget gap

Fort Worth faces a $50.2 million gap for the budget year beginning in October, city leaders learned Tuesday.

"We obviously have a significant problem," City Manager Dale Fisseler said. "The truth is, we're going to be facing some very difficult times."

Tax collections in Fort Worth are expected to drop slightly, consultant Becky Brooks told City Council members.

One of the biggest drains on the city budget is the employees’ retirement fund, which plummeted 30 percent last year, Brooks said. The city must increase its contributions to the fund to make up the loss or reduce benefits to future retirees.

An economic expert predicted the slump could last until late 2010.

"There's really no place to hide in this recession,” said UNT economics professor Bud Weinstein. "It's affecting every industry, it’s affecting every business, and it's affecting every level of government."

Still, Fort Worth is in much better shape than some cities because of the Barnett Shale, Weinstein said.

But natural gas revenues are earmarked for certain projects, and city leaders are reluctant to use them to balance the general fund.

"We're going to have to adjust, adapt, and overcome," Mayor Mike Moncrief said.

The city eliminated more than 100 jobs last year, but the mayor said it was too early to consider more layoffs this year until the budget process begins this summer.

"I can tell you a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked," Moncrief said.

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