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Fort Worth Budget Dissolves Water Rate Hike, Cuts Arts

Fort Worth Public Art

A last minute change to the city of Fort Worth 2013 budget will save residents a little money on water bills. But the new budget is costly to arts programs in the city.   

The  budget does not raise taxes, does not give employees a pay raise, and does not raise residential water rates.  That’s a surprise. An increase of about two-and-a-half percent, or an average $1.79 a month, was in the budget. But at the last minute, the rate hike was rejected. Council member Kelly Allen  Gray says a compelling reason for the increase was not spelled out, and residents feel nickel and dimed by recurring, small rate hikes.  

Cuts of 25 percent or more to arts programs brought speakers to City Hall for the second and third time.  

Greg Clifton, a member of the Fort Worth Arts Council,  said a vibrant arts community is a necessity to attract new business to the city.

“I think if we lose some of our arts organizations that will be noted,” Clifton said. “It will make us very hard as a city to get a second look and to be on that finalist list that we all want to be on when major companies are looking for their new home.”

Retired Fort Worth teacher Ernestine Rose told council members that funding the arts is more than attracting business and tourism.  She says it’s an investment in the youth of the city.

“I’ve seen them go off to college and participate in theatre, become speakers, become politicians, become people who want to give back to their community,” Rose said.  “And I’d just like to ask you to endorse the arts; to keep the arts our hearts and our minds and certainly in our budget.”

Being in the budget may be part of the problem.  Mayor Betsy Price says it’s unfair that arts organizations have to compete for general revenue funds along with public safety and other core services. Councilman Sal Espino agrees.

“I think we can all agree we need a dedicated revenue stream for the arts and we have that commitment going forward for this council to continue to look at that,” Espino said. “I do want to thank the Mayor and the arts community for their advocacy on this issue, and I think we’ll move forward.”

The council intends to do a midyear budget review to see if the city’s Culture and Tourism fund, which comes from the hotel occupancy tax, is healthy enough to give some money to the Arts Council. And a committee will be formed to look at a dedicated source of funding for the arts.  

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.