Mayor's leadership closes deficit, brings balanced budget to DWG
The small city had been running at a deficit and relying on oil and gas revenues to fund its operations
Kimberly Fitzpatrick treats others the way she wants to be treated. That’s why she makes an effort to be as transparent as possible with her citizens so they understand where exactly their tax dollars are going.
When Fitzpatrick assumed office as Dalworthington Gardens Mayor in May 2016, she knew the city had some financial problems that needed addressing. With one of the lowest property taxes in the area at 27 cents per $100 valuation, the city was facing $131,000 in expenditures over budget revenue and a change in fund balance of $436,889. Fitzpatrick knew that something had to change.
“Part of the problem we had in the city was that we lacked sales tax revenue,” Fitzpatrick said. “If you looked at the businesses like Arlington or Mansfield, DWG is mostly residential. We don’t have the sales tax revenue coming into the city to try and balance out our property tax revenue.”
According to City Administrator Wade Calhoun, the Mayor and City Council hosted numerous town hall meetings with citizens on a proposed 10 cent tax increase. The bond propositions approved in May’s election increased the tax rate by five cents to pay for the debt obligation, while the Mayor and the Council also discussed the need to increase property taxes another five cents through the FY 2017-2018 budget. This was done in order to decrease the reliance on oil and gas revenues, Calhoun said.
“That helped balance out to where we didn’t have to pull from reserves,” Fitzpatrick said.
Calhoun said the short-term impact of these tax increases can be seen in road projects in the next few months, the construction for a new city hall in 2018, and the city using any excess of budgeted oil and gas revenues to build up reserve funds.
Throughout City Council developments, Fitzpatrick wanted to make sure that citizens stayed informed and did her part to make sure they knew what was going on and why. The City Council posted financial records on the City’s website. Fitzpatrick invited residents to the private social network NextDoor and posted frequently to keep them informed. Numerous town halls were hosted in city hall and Key Elementary.
With the city operating on a $2.9 million budget and with 70 percent of expenditures related to salary, Fitzpatrick said the city needed to get creative in both how they generated and saved income. They even included a city newsletter at the bottom of resident’s water bills.
“That saved us $600 a month just by doing that,” she said.
Alderman Richard Pell said what helped the City Council the most during this time was how cooperative citizens were throughout the process. Pell said he believes it’s because the citizens saw exactly what the Council was seeing.
“There hadn’t been a tax increase in well over 10 years,” Pell said. “You just can’t run a city without some income, especially if you have your own police and fire department.”
That cooperation, he said, was what helped the Council gain progress on this issue and set the city straight financially.
Even with the tax increase, DWG still has one of the lowest tax rates in the area compared to Arlington and Mansfield. Both of those areas’ tax rates are 64 cents and 71 cents respectively, while DWG’s rests at 37 cents per $100 valuation. Yet that still affords all of the city services, from the department of public safety all the way to trash disposal.
“You’re getting all of the same services you would get in Arlington, but you’re paying a much lower rate for that,” Fitzpatrick said.
If citizens had any concerns, it was that the tax increases were not high enough, Pell said. But with the increase in water bills and property valuations going up, Fitzpatrick wanted to be smart with citizen’s tax dollars.
“You never want to have to do it, you understand that it’s a necessity,” she said. “Money’s tight for everybody. I just don’t want them to feel too much of a strain all at once.”