A proposal to devote city property tax revenue to expanded bus service in Fort Worth appears dead after two council members who opposed the measure failed to show up for a public hearing Friday afternoon.
The council had scheduled a special session for a public hearing to change the property tax rate that, if approved, could have given the T about $2.8 million from tax revenues in 2018. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority has said it needs the money to implement expanded bus services to the city’s west side.
The council knew three of its members had conflicts and were not going to be able to make the meeting. But when Cary Moon of District 4 and Jungus Jordan of District 6 did not show for the meeting, Mayor Betsy Price declared a lack of quorum 15 minutes after it was supposed to start.
About four dozen residents, some in wheelchairs who previously have spoken about being transit dependent, showed up to the meeting. About half of them met with Councilwoman Ann Zadeh afterward in a separate meeting room, where 17 people spoke.
Zadeh is the council representative who suggested directing the money to the T two weeks ago. The city needs to set a property tax rate and budget by Sept. 30, leaving no time for the required two public hearings and a vote.
“I’m just really disappointed and angry,” Zadeh said of the lack of quorum. She vowed to continue looking for money for transit.
“People took their time out of a busy work day to come down here and be heard,” she said. “I would like to hear them.”
Price and Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray listened to a couple of the speakers as well. Councilman Carlos Flores said, “I wish those who did come to the meeting had the opportunity to speak.”
Moon said Friday he didn’t attend because he feels the council and public have already completed the public budget process. Going into a second round to consider an alternative tax rate “is not good governance,” he said.
His remarks came after he tweeted in the morning that he rode a T bus with T board member Neftali Ortiz. About 15 minutes before the meeting was to begin, Moon was outside City Hall being interviewed by a television station.
Jordan did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Friday’s meeting was to be the first of two required meetings before the council could vote on a property tax rate and a fiscal 2018 budget.
The council has already held the required public hearings on setting the tax rate at 80.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, three cents less than the current rate. The reduction comes in the wake of an 11 percent increase in property values this year.
The original property tax rate and $1.7 billion fiscal 2018 budget will now be on Tuesday’s agenda for a possible vote.
The council recently agreed to consider an alternative tax rate of 81.5 cent per $100 assessed valuation at the request of Zadeh. That could have meant as much as $5.7 million for the T.
Earlier this week, there seemed to be consensus among most of the council that they could at least agree on 81 cents, with the exception of Moon and Jordan. Brian Byrd of District 3 also opposed the proposed higher rate. He was on a planned family trip to Arizona and missed Friday’s meeting.
Moon called Zadeh’s pitch to boost funding for the T a piecemeal approach. Moon said he wants to convene a meeting soon with the T, the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth, which supported Zadeh’s efforts, and other stakeholders such as the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce to talk about alternative funding options, particularly for a rail system.
“Let’s do it right, not this last minute makeshift budget rework,” Moon said.
Gyna Bivens of District 5 was out of town, as was Dennis Shingleton of District 7. Both supported spending property tax revenues on the T.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority was created in 1983, when the public voted to fund it with a half-cent sales tax.
Paul Ballard, the T’s president and CEO, seemed baffled by the turn of events. “I’m just waiting here for a quorum and hope that one will come,” he said. “I’m just not familiar with the council’s procedures. I don’t think we’ll ever give up,” pushing for funding.