It’s clear the City Council is headed toward spending property tax revenue on public transportation for the first time in the city’s history.
That means homeowners will contribute to the city’s bus system by paying more property taxes than the city had originally planned, about $10 to $20 more for the owner of a $200,000 home.
Not all of the council members will agree to it. They will discuss the issue further Friday during a public hearing on the 2018 budget.
Council members are torn between continuing to lower the city’s property tax rate in the wake of rising property values and improving the transportation system for a better quality of life.
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“Mobility, no matter what you do, is going to define this city long term,” said Mayor Betsy Price. “Mobility is going to be key to the city. As a major growing city, we have to think about this.”
The property tax rate was initially set at 80.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, a 3-cent drop from the current rate, which would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $1,630 in city taxes. The council is now considering alternative rates of 81 cents and 81.5 cents. The city has one of the highest municipal rates in Tarrant County.
Councilwoman Ann Zadeh wants the rate set at 81.5 cents, with that penny difference used to help the Fort Worth Transportation Authority expand bus service to the city’s west side, the next step in its master plan.
The council voted 6-1 Sept. 12 to reconsider the tax rate. Price and Councilman Jungus Jordan were absent and did not vote.
That action, though, meant publishing the alternative rate proposed by Zadeh and holding two additional public hearings. The council is scheduled to vote on the tax rate and budget Sept. 29, pushing up against the state-mandated deadline of Oct. 1. Because the two proposed rates have been published and public hearings will be held, the council can vote on a rate anywhere in between.
The first public meeting is at 3 p.m. Friday at City Hall, 200 Texas St. Three council members, Gyna Bivens, Dennis Shingleton and Brian Byrd, had city-related or personal commitments and will not be at the meeting.
Price said this week that she would agree to earmarking a half-cent for transit. But it comes with a caveat that the council partner with the T to help them find the money they need going forward.
“A comprehensive transit system will benefit everybody,” Price said. “Whatever funding we decide is necessary, it’s going to lead to a broader discussion about the sustainability of our funding and the solutions for the T. At some point, we’re going to have to put a stake in the ground, and in my opinion that half cent is that stake we start out with.”
Funding for the T, which operates the city’s bus service and some regional transportation independent from the city, has come from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters 34 years ago. This year, that meant about $68 million in revenue. The T also receives money from other member cities and other sources.
At a half-cent, the T would receive $2.85 million, which would fund about nine months of the expanded operations — the next step in a master plan that could cost as much as $1.2 billion to complete over time. City Manager David Cooke said T staff has told the city that the agency wouldn’t start that service until late January.
Jordan said the request for the money is a significant last-minute change and has come too late in the budget process. He said he wanted to see a 5-cent drop in the property tax rate, which would be a $100 savings for the owner of a $200,000 home.
“No one can claim to be a bigger proponent of transportation than me,” Jordan said. But “just giving money to another agency, in my opinion, would be a gift of public money and I’m not going to stand for that.”
Councilman Cary Moon agrees, saying the last-minute push to raise the property tax rate above what the city manager recommended is not a good option. He says other funding means are available, from help from the Legislature to issuing debt or using a full penny of sales tax toward transportation.
“I am for mass transit done correctly and trying to fund a public transportation system the people will ride and use, and that’s not going to be the bus,” Moon said.
Zadeh has expressed frustration over what she sees as all talk and no action.
“We have pointed to the types of funding that are available to use and agreed that that funding is inadequate,” Zadeh said. “We have not come up with any ideas of how to go about it another way. We cannot continue to point to options that are not available to us. This is an option that’s available to us.”
Fort Worth budget hearings
3 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Tuesday, City Hall