The City Council has opened the door to expanded bus service by its decision to consider taking property tax revenues and spending it on public transportation.
Councilwoman Ann Zadeh pressed the issue Tuesday night, saying “fixing the transit system is our job.”
The council voted 6-1 to consider setting the proposed property tax rate for 2018 to 81.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, which is one cent higher than what’s been proposed.
Zadeh wants the revenue from the penny, or about $5.7 million, to go to the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or the T. The money would be used to expand and improve services to the city’s west side.
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Councilman Cary Moon voted against the Zadeh’s motion, saying he doesn’t want transportation funded through the general revenue fund and that is it is too late in the budget process to “raise our hand at the last minute and increase funding.” Mayor Betsy Price and Councilman Jungus Jordan were absent.
About two dozen residents asked the council Tuesday night to support earmarking one cent of the property tax rate for public transportation, including a few people living with disabilities who rely on city buses to get around.
Others said the city’s lack of a good public transit system means it has been losing out on attracting millennials, who in turn drive the economy and tend to be big users of mass transit.
Millennial Meghan Riddlespurger said she relocated to Fort Worth 18 months ago and hoped to sell her car when she got here.
“Turns out I couldn’t,” she said. “If I wanted to, I was going to be in a lot of trouble in terms of trying to get myself around in an easy way.”
Zadeh acknowledged after the meeting it was a hurdle just to get the council to continue talking about transportation.
“I hope that everybody listens to what was said tonight and sees the need, and considers all of that and agrees this is a step we need to take,” she said. “We don’t necessarily have to go with the whole cent. If we can find a compromise that everybody can agree to, I’m happy to have that discussion.”
The city funds the T with a half-cent sales tax, which generated about $68 million in revenue this fiscal year. Sales tax revenues have been increasing. Earlier this year, the T used $7 million in additional revenue to pay for an expansion of bus service to far north Fort Worth and the Alliance corridor.
Paul Ballard, the T’s president and CEO, said Wednesday the city needs to continue conversations about increasing funding or it could impact economic development and eventually cause traffic gridlocks.
“We have to have a resolution on the proposed funding levels of public transportation,” Ballard said.
As a result of the vote, the council has dipped its toe in unprecedented territory and will not approve a property tax rate and annual budget as it typically has, instead stretching the process down to the wire.
The council isn’t expected to approve a tax rate and budget until Sept. 29, one day before a state deadline. The city’s budget year begins Oct. 1.
Because the council has already published a proposed tax rate of 80.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, it will have to restart the process of holding two public hearings on the rate and budget.
Not adopting a tax rate by the deadline puts the city at risk for lost revenues. In this case it would mean about $28.7 million.
According to state law, if it missed the deadline, the city would have to adopt this year’s effective rate of 78.7 cents. The effective rate would give the city the same amount of money that it has for the current fiscal year, or about $343.7 million. The city is hoping to raise $371.5 million in property tax revenues in 2018.