FORT WORTH, Texas - Cities across North Texas are starting to feel the coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact on their budgets.
In Fort Worth, about 80 city employees who run the Will Rogers Memorial Center and the Fort Worth Convention Center will be furloughed on May 18.
The layoff allows those employees to collect unemployment pay. It's expected to last through the end of June, if not longer.
Fort Worth leaders said the city’s budget has been hit hard by a drop in sales tax revenue. There are also fewer people using the event centers.
The city of Dallas is losing more money during this pandemic than it did during the entirety of the great recession more than 10 years ago.
Projects for street repairs may be delayed and other budget cuts were discussed by the Dallas City Council on Wednesday due to a projected revenue shortfall of $25 million from the general fund.
“This recession has been immediate, it is deep, it is unlike anything we've seen before,” said Elizabeth Reich, Dallas Chief Financial Officer.
The projected shortfall is worse next year, when the city estimates losing $50 million in sales tax revenue.
“That is going to in large part depend on if we have to go back into shelter in place at various points of this crisis or not,” Reich said.
There are still a lot of unknowns, like if the city will be forced to keep things like recreation centers, pools, and libraries closed for safety reasons.
“Not going to be easy, not going to be pretty, but have to make sure it is fair, make sure everyone feels a little bit of pain,” said councilman Casey Thomas.
The empty hotels and convention center account for a loss of more than half of the year's budgeted hotel tax revenue.
Reich also laid out a plan to delay more than $132 million in bond projects, starting with streets, since the city may not be able to make payments on the debt.
“We maxed out the credit card, now when we need it we don't have it,” said councilman Lee Kleinman.
“Some of these projects we can’t afford to delay or defer. People who work on these projects are residents in my district. Vast majority, we know are black and brown folks,” said councilman Omar Narvaez.
Arlington is also considering whether to furlough city employees to save money.
City council members are looking at several options including staggered furloughs or layoffs. Sales tax numbers will guide that decision.
Mayor Jeff Williams said employee reduction would be a last-ditched effort to balance the budget.
Arlington’s high level of service privatization has helped it avoid reducing its workforce to this point during the pandemic.
RELATED: Coronavirus coverage
North Richland Hills
North Richland Hills hasn't let any of its employees go but is taking steps to get ahead of an expected shortfall.
All of the city's employees will take a 2.5% pay reduction effective until October and city council members will forego their $50 per meeting stipend. Also, all city services except police and fire will shut down for three days in May. Police and firefighters will have three scheduled days off without pay.
With its popular, city owned water park, NRH20, sitting idle, and no date yet planned, per Governor Greg Abbott, for reopening these types of parks, North Richland Hills is taking steps to mitigate this and other lost revenue.
“When people aren’t coming to NRH2O, they’re not buying tickets, and that reduces the overall revenue for the water park,” North Richland Hills City Manager Mark Hindman said. “I know we’re in the same situation as a lot of other amusement parks locally and around the country with that.”
Other losses are explained by just a look around town. Lighter traffic on the roads means police are writing fewer citations.
Builders who would typically come to city hall to pay fees have stayed away, and more.
“Also, we’ve had fewer people calling for ambulances. So we’ve had a reduction in the ambulance services we would provide. So its fees and things of that nature that have dropped,” Hindman said.
The overall budget deficit tallies roughly $1.5 million.
The short term remedy is three furlough days for all city departments, including parks and maintenance crews, as well as library workers. Everything except police and fire.
Employees will not get paid those days, but the lost wages will be spread out over several months, to soften the blow.
“With furlough days, two of these days would probably come out of the same paycheck. That would be a pretty substantial hit to a lot of our staff,” Hindman said. “And so by spreading it out over 12, 11 pay periods, through the remainder of the year, we are able to minimize that impact.”
The city of Lewisville in Denton County announced it has canceled all city-sponsored public events through September.
That includes it’s Fourth of July fireworks show, as well as the KTA Jam Session, St. Paddy’s Texas Style, Fiesta Charra, Sounds of Lewisville concert series and Sounds of Red, White and Lewisville concert.
Lewisville said it’s a money issue with declining sales tax revenue cutting into its budget. The city now predicts a $1 million drop in sales tax revenue this fiscal year.
A tight budget and fears of spreading the coronavirus will mean cuts in the Fort Worth suburb of Bedford.
The city is closing the Bedford Splash Aquatics Center. It is also canceling summer camps and the Fourth of July Fest. It will postpone the Blues and Barbeque Festival until next year.