If City Council handles crime tax well, show it

Posted Monday, Nov. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For nearly 20 years, Fort Worth voters have agreed to pay an extra half-cent in sales tax solely for crime prevention.

The money — now $60 million a year — is collected on top of regular city property and sales taxes. It’s revenue city officials can never take for granted.

Just to reinforce that, state lawmakers gave voters the power to renew or revoke the tax by citywide election every five years.

The next election is a year away, and some leaders of the city-sponsored Code:Blue Citizens on Patrol neighborhood watch organization are not happy with the way the City Council manages the revenue.

Until 2010, council members appointed a separate volunteer board that administered spending outside the regular city police budget.

In 2010, after a change in state law gave the board the authority to impose a sales tax on utilities, City Council members decided that elected officials should assume that responsibility.

So council members appointed themselves to replace the volunteer board.

Then-Mayor Mike Moncrief and council members argued that only elected officials accountable to the voters should have such power.

Now, some Code:Blue Citizens on Patrol volunteers say the council has too much power.

West Division volunteer Michael Cohen, a public advocate for renewing the tax in 2009, said some crime watch captains want a separate board restored for more outside oversight.

Some tax critics have always complained about the police budget, saying too much money goes for crime prevention such as graffiti removal and gang intervention programs.

That’s not a new complaint. In the 1990s, critics complained about “midnight basketball.”

The old system added a second layer of public scrutiny. But at a glance, it makes sense to have the elected City Council oversee all police and crime prevention spending. At the very least, it saves the bureaucratic expense of operating yet another volunteer board.

When they took on the crime board powers, City Council members said elected officials should be the ones held accountable.

If the crime tax money is being spent wisely, that should not be a problem. Of course, that is something of which taxpayers must be convinced.

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