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Recreation And Culture Employees Bear The Brunt Of City Furloughs In Dallas And Fort Worth 4

The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth announced their plans to furlough employees this week, with the biggest impact on parks, libraries, events and cultural departments.

Almost 500 “non-essential” Dallas workers will be furloughed starting Wednesday through at least the end of July. The city of Fort Worth plans to furlough 79 employees in the Public Events Department starting Saturday through July.

In Dallas, the move affects less than 4% of the city’s 13,000 workers — but more than a quarter of the 900 parks and recreation staffers will be furloughed, as will nearly half of the 400 library workers. Dallas’ Office of Arts and Culture will lose more than half of its 60 employees.

According to KXAS-TV, Dallas Parks and Recreation will lose 235 employees, libraries 187 and the Office of Arts and Culture 32. Seven other city departments have single-digit furloughs.

In a memo, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax wrote that the move comes as the city faces a $25 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30. That could rise to as much as $134 million in the next fiscal year. The big reason: Sales tax revenues are plummeting.

“A furlough is a very difficult decision to make,” said Catherine Cuellar, former executive director of the Dallas Arts District and now a city spokesperson. She added, “The city was focused on protecting core services, essential civilian employees both in the field and working from home.”

Cuellar said the furloughs will save the city $4 million.

With revenue from tourism falling, the city of Fort Worth is projecting a $14 million drop in the its Culture and Tourism Fund for the current fiscal year. Officials said it could take up to three years for the fund to recover.

The coronavirus pandemic led to a big drop in hospitality and venue tax collections in March and April. As limits on large gatherings continue, Fort Worth officials predict a 50% decline in attendance at meetings and conventions through September. Attendance declines could affect bookings and revenue for venues like Dickies Arena, the Fort Worth Convention Center and Bass Hall.

Vicki Meek, a former city of Dallas employee who now sits on Dallas’ Arts and Culture Advisory Commission, says artists often revive down economies and residents – through their performances. Eventually, she said that might happen again, but doesn’t know when.

“I’ve lived through two furloughs, but this is looking like the worst we’ve ever had to endure,” she said. “This is something that’s affected every single method of getting money that we have, and I just don’t feel like it’s going to be an easy return.”

Furloughed Dallas workers will be eligible for unemployment benefits through federal COVID-19 relief funding for the length of their furloughs. Those who signed up for health insurance will have coverage extended through July.

Broadnax also wrote that Dallas would unveil a “Return To Work” plan next week.