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D-FW cities announce furloughs, hiring freezes, other cuts in response to coronavirus closures

Non-emergency city operations in North Richland Hills will close for three days in May to reduce expenses, officials say.

This story has been updated throughout. 

North Richland Hills will be closing non-emergency city operations for three days in May to help offset the financial losses the city is facing due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, city leaders announced Thursday. 

It, like many cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, is facing budget shortfalls because of a decline in sales tax revenue and other taxes. 

Other cities may soon announce hiring freezes and furloughs like North Richland Hills has, said Mike Eastland, the executive director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments. 

“Many cities are also experiencing water and sewer fees not being paid since people are without jobs," Eastland said. "Property tax values could drop in future budget years which will lead to decreased revenue.”

North Richland Hills City Manager Mark Hindman had already instituted a hiring freeze, as well as stopped training and travel expenditures, on March 13. 

But that wasn't enough of cost savings. City officials predict a revenue shortfall this year, considering sales tax accounts for more than 20% of the City’s annual funding. 

The City will also close non-emergency operations on May 1, 8, and 15 to save money. Employees won't be paid for those days. 

Public safety operations won't close those three days but employees in the departments will take three days off without pay at another time.

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In total, the three-day measures will save the city $500,000, Hindman said. 

'Going to take other actions'

Hindman said it was a difficult decision to close for three days because employees were not anticipating pay cuts.

“This, unfortunately, will not solve our budget situation,” Hindman said. “It’s going to take other actions. We’re going to have to hold positions open for a longer period of time and we’ll have some vacancies we’ll create through attrition.”

City leaders are still analyzing the impact of business closures on the city budget. 

"We feel that these actions are necessary now to avoid other more drastic measures, such as reduction or elimination of services, down the road," Hindman said in a written statement. 

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In addition to cutting travel and training costs, city leaders reduced hours for part-time employees.

The city has saved money with the suspension of library and recreation programs and the cancelation of special events during the pandemic.

Hiring freezes

Several cities have instituted hiring freezes and have resorted to budget contingency plans. 

Plano City Manager Mark Israelson said all part-time and full-time positions are frozen, with the exception of public safety officers. 

"We are continuing to monitor the revenue impacts of COVID-19 and will take additional steps as necessary to address any financial impact this pandemic has on the City budget," Israelson said in a written statement. 

And a spokeswoman for the City of Frisco said they’ve “applied a hiring freeze for all open positions except fire and police.” She added that all part-time positions have been furloughed.

The City of Arlington is mitigating an estimated loss of $18 million dollars for this fiscal year, said spokeswoman Susan Schrock. She said the city manager has created a six-phase approach “to conserve resources and make sure that the budget is balanced.”

That has so far included a hiring freeze, travel freeze, suspending the 2% raise that had been budgeted to eligible employees and delaying the police and fire academies this summer.

Budget discussions and the pandemic’s effect on finances in Arlington continue, Schrock said.

Delayed projects

And in Fort Worth, city leaders enacted a hiring freeze for all positions except fire and police civil service positions, said spokeswoman Michelle Gutt.

They’ve taken additional measures, including delaying capital projects “to save up to $50 million in unspent pay-go revenue,” which are projects paid with cash instead of relying on debt.

“Fortunately, we entered this challenge in a strong position – the local economy was extremely strong and the City was in a very strong financial position," said City Manager David Cooke.

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