FORT WORTH -- A proposed transportation utility fee to shrink the city's long-term gap in transportation and road construction funding appears to be off the table after City Council members reacted negatively at Tuesday's budget workshop.
In another high-interest pocketbook issue, a proposal to raise parking rates in the city's Cultural District was also put on hold for a year.
Council members said officials clearly need to find a way to fund all of the city's growing infrastructure needs, but they can't consider any new fees until the city delivers on road projects that are years behind schedule.
Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks said the transportation fee, which would have added $5.90 to a single-family residence's monthly water bill, would be another form of taxation. "We're not calling it a tax, but it is," Hicks said.
Almost all the council members agreed on setting aside the fee, but Sal Espino said the council must have "a frank discussion on how we got here." He said the city cannot continue to ignore its projected 10-year transportation funding gap of $1 billion.
"We are in an infrastructure crisis in our city," Espino said.
Mayor Betsy Price said the fee can be shelved for now and reconsidered again if the city gets its expenses under control and finishes the delayed road projects that have been promised for years.
Doug Wiersig, director of transportation and public works, outlined an 18-month plan for road project completion that includes 33 neighborhood streets.
But council members, while expressing hope, said they have heard it all before.
"It is time to stop the excuses and build the road," Councilman Jungus Jordan said.
With those concerns in mind, interim City Manager Tom Higgins said, the city staff will create a list so that council members can track the progress of road projects in each council district. That is the only way, several council members said, that they can know whether progress is being made.
Council members again appeared to favor shifting a penny in the property tax allocation from operation and maintenance to infrastructure. Fort Worth allocates 16.9 percent of its property tax to infrastructure. With the penny increase, the city would allocate nearly 18 percent, still lower than every other major Texas city.
By comparison, Austin allocates more than 28 percent of property tax and Dallas more than 33 percent to infrastructure. Fort Worth's city staffers are proposing to increase the infrastructure allocation a penny each year for four years to more than double the city's debt capacity.
The city staff also recommended a one-year delay in raising parking rates in the Cultural District so an automatic parking system can be installed at all lots. The system would allow prices to be adjusted for varying events. It would also provide some sort of "grace period" for parkers to go quickly in and out of a museum or other facility without paying.
In fiscal 2013 budget plans, the city is recommending raising parking rates from $5 to $8 to pay for debt service for the Western Heritage Garage. For the upcoming fiscal year, the city would make a one-time transfer of $1.6 million from the parking fund to delay raising parking rates.