Voters in Richland Hills appeared ready Tuesday to stay in the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and continue an 18-year tradition of bus and commuter rail service in their city.
With early voting and six of seven precincts reporting, the proposition asking voters whether they wanted to stay in the T was passing with 62 percent of the vote. The high-profile debate over the value of mass transit attracted 2,125 residents, or nearly 45 percent of 4,802 registered voters, with one precinct remaining.
The early totals included 1,035 people who cast ballots in early voting, according to incomplete and unofficial results.
"I have faith in the citizens that they can see what's logically right and wrong, bad and good, and when it's right they'll stay in," said T President Dick Ruddell, who added that the vote clears the way for road improvements and development around Richland Hills Station.
Richland Hills was among 10 cities in the greater Fort Worth area where voters decided a plethora of propositions Tuesday, including: legalizing alcohol sales in areas that were dry, reauthorizing sales taxes for street repairs, approving bonds to pay for new municipal buildings and giving elected municipal leaders longer terms.
The decision by Richland Hills residents to stay in the T was being hailed by transit proponents, who say it proves that despite calls for government belt-tightening, North Texans consider transportation improvements a crucial step toward improving their quality of life. This is especially true, they said, of improvements that reduce the number of people on freeways in single-occupant vehicles.
The T collects a half-cent sales tax in Richland Hills, and provides on-request bus service, transit for mobility-impaired people and a Trinity Railway Express station.
"For our side, it doesn't look that good, but the encouraging thing is a whole bunch of people turned out. It's amazing," said Councilman Larry Marrs, who has led the city's effort to explore alternatives to the T's service. Marrs and others argued that the city doesn't get enough value for its $600,000 to $800,000 annual sales tax contribution, and they have pushed to hire an outside contractor to provide shuttle service for a limited number of residents.
The debate bitterly divided elected leaders during the past year. In Richland Hills, all five council members favored alternatives to the T, while Mayor David Ragan pushed to keep T service.
But on Tuesday night, Ragan said, "Let's have a healing period and move on."
Tuesday's election was a wet one, and not just because of a steady rain that fell throughout the day in the region.
Voters in four cities appeared to be ready to expand alcohol sales, according to incomplete, unofficial returns.
In Haslet, voters were approving the sale of beer, wine and mixed beverages on recently annexed property -- 12.6 acres on the southwest corner of Avondale- Haslet Road and Farm Road 156.
With half of the precincts counted, 71 percent of voters supported a proposition to allow the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption, and 77 percent of voters supported the idea of allowing restaurants to sell mixed beverages
"I would say, in a nutshell, I am gratified," Mayor Bob Golden said. "I hope this indicates we are supporting a more proactive movement toward economic development."
In Benbrook, 76 percent of voters approved alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption, with five of eight precincts reporting.
In Kennedale, 68 percent of voters agreed to the legal sale of all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages, with two of seven precincts reporting.
In Roanoke, voters were narrowly supporting a measure that would allow retailers to sell liquor for off-premises consumption. With 12 percent of precincts counted, 53 percent of voters had approved it. Supporters say allowing package liquor sales would attract top liquor store chains.
In several other cities, voters decided dozens of other propositions that called for changes large and small.
In Azle and Forest Hill, voters were poised to reauthorize a quarter-cent sales tax for street maintenance and repairs. In Azle, 82 percent of voters approved the sales tax, with one of five precincts reporting, and in Forest Hill 75 percent approve the tax in early voting, according to unofficial returns.
Keller voters, facing a lengthy ballot of 39 propositions, were approving all the amendments with 22 percent of precincts counted. The changes include allowing the mayor to vote, adding another member to the council and extending council terms to three years from two.
The ballot was time-consuming, officials said, because the city hasn't had a charter amendment in about 15 years.
The propositions also included making changes to recall elections, initiative and referendum and city ethics rules.
In Weatherford, voters appeared to favor five changes to the city charter, including extending two-year City Council terms to three years, according to incomplete results.
In Haltom City, voters were split on six propositions to sell bonds for big projects. They approved $12.2 million for street improvements and $3.7 million for a fire station, but in early voting they were leaning toward defeating proposals for a law enforcement center at a cost of $8.5 million; a city hall at $6.4 million; and a recreation center at $3 million. A proposal for parks improvements, at $5.4 million, was too close to call, at 51-49 percent.
In Watauga, voters overwhelmingly agreed in early voting to continue collecting a half-cent sales tax for crime control and prevention for 10 years.
Voters also were favoring Patrick "Pat" Shelbourne to finish an unexpired term on City Council Place 6. In early voting, and with two of six precincts reporting, Shelbourne received 35 percent of the vote, compared with 27 percent each for James Kimmerle and Ernest P. Koontz and 11 percent for Rick L. Picciano.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796