Nearly $1.8 billion.
That’s what Fort Worth’s city leaders say it’ll cost to take care of the fast-growing city’s needs over the next fiscal year.
The Fort Worth City Council will vote Tuesday on the proposed budget, which includes a cut to the city property tax rate, increased fees for city services, more transportation and infrastructure funding and a new office for police oversight.
WIth nearly 900,000 residents and counting, the city is planning to build two new libraries, a new fire station, a new animal shelter and new parks. There’s funding to increase city staff by 114 positions, the majority of which will be in police, fire and code enforcement departments. The city also has plans for new street lights, more sidewalks, and funding to maintain streets, alleys, buildings, and parks. Additional funding for public transportation is included in the budget to expand on-demand Zipzone service to the medical district on the southside.
“Think about the infrastructure needs of a city of 100,000 people. We add that every five years,” Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The proposed budget reduces the city’s tax rate by nearly four cents -- the fourth rate drop in four years -- though most homeowners will still see higher property tax bills because of rising home values.
City services will also get more expensive. In all, the city estimates that a typical family that owns a $200,000 home today will need an additional $93 in increased city property taxes and service fees.
That’s frustrated residents like Fran Rhodes, who is president of the True Texas Project, formerly the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party.
“I understand that running a city the size of Fort Worth is challenging and difficult, but there have to be ways to control spending, cut waste and abuse, and eliminate unnecessary expenditures,” Rhodes told city councilmembers last week.
One councilmember – Cary Moon – says he won’t vote for the budget because the city hasn’t found enough ways to lower costs, though the budget is expected to win approval.
Moon also doesn’t like the $300,000 and two staff positions allocated in the proposed budget for a new Office of the Police Monitor.
The civilian-led agency -- a police monitor and an assistant -- will be charged with oversight of Fort Worth’s police force and reviewing complaints of officer misconduct.
The city’s Task Force on Race and Culture recommended the creation of a civilian board to oversee the police department in an attempt to increase accountability and transparency. City leaders say that, once a police monitor is hired, that person will make suggestions for the oversight board’s makeup and the scope of its authority.
Reform advocates point to other cities moving to bulk up police oversight, and argue for increasing the funding and staffing for the office. Austin has nine staffers in the police monitor's office and is working to reconstitute its citizen review board. Dallas moved to strengthen its board this year, and is adding three staff members to support it. They say Fort Worth doesn’t appear to be committed to meaningful police oversight based on its budget proposal.
“This is not nearly enough people or funds for this office to carry out its mission,” Pamela Young, from the group Tarrant County for Community Oversight, told Fort Worth city council members. “The scope of this work is more complex than I believe anyone on this council or this staff truly comprehends.”
The city is also planning ot hire a diversity and inclusion officer.
Challenges From New State Laws
This proposed budget comes after the state legislature made budget-writing trickier for cities. During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed two laws that cut into revenues that cities have relied on in the past: Lawmakers banned red light cameras, which brought in about $4 million dollars a year for Fort Worth, and blocked cities from collecting a telecom franchise tax charged to cable companies.
“With the loss of the red light camera and the loss of the $4 million in the franchise, we are now more dependent on the property tax and the sales tax,” said Cooke, the city manager.
And next year, budget writing will get even more difficult for cities and other local governments when a new property tax law will be in effect.
Lawmakers moved to limit how much cities increase property tax revenues year to year. Under the new law, cities and counties will have to call an election and ask for voter approval if they want to increase property taxes by more than 3.5 percent from the previous year (school districts will have to seek voter approval at 2.5 percent). Before the law was signed by the governor in June, that cap -- caled the rollback rate -- was 8 percent.
Fort Worth’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget would not meet that threshold.