As discussion deepens about improving public transportation in Fort Worth, Mayor Betsy Price and the City Council may need to look at reallocating some of the city’s allowed 2 cents of sales tax. That could mean money now set aside to fight crime could be used for operating buses.
Public transportation became a divisive topic last summer in setting the city’s property tax rate. In response, the mayor and council a few months ago asked City Manager David Cooke to come up with ideas on finding additional dollars for public transit. On Tuesday, he outlined potential options for them.
Those ideas include using some of the city’s 1-cent sales tax, which goes to the general fund, or the half-cent that goes to the Crime Control and Prevention District. The district was established by referendum in 1995, and voters have since reapproved it every five years, but it is set to expire again in 2020. It’s anticipated that the CCPD tax will generate $73.9 million this year alone.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, created in 1983, also receives a half-cent, projected to be about $77.4 million in 2018. Meanwhile, the city’s general fund will get about $154.5 million in sales tax revenue from its 1 cent.
Cooke told the council that transportation funding should not come from property tax revenue.
“Our need to reduce the property tax rate is still a policy goal,” Cooke said. “It is still the highest of any major cities in Texas and still the highest of most of all the major cities in the Metroplex.” But, he added, “If we’re serious about freeing some of that sales tax that’s going to CCPD and wanting to free it up for transit, then we really should start now working on that.”
The funding discussion came a day after the T decided to rename itself Trinity Metro in an effort to place a more regional emphasis on its operations.
Along those lines, Cooke on Tuesday called on Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley to convene the mayors and managers of Tarrant County’s 41 municipalities and ask them to become members of the T.
Council members agreed it’s going to take some tough choices moving forward. None of them is willing to commit any money just yet. Councilman Cary Moon said he’d like to see the issue taken to the ballot box in May when Fort Worth voters go to the polls to vote on a $399.5 million bond program.
Price said she wants to make sure expansion plans the T has in place are sustainable before money is put toward those efforts. She suggested the city and the T begin begin looking at other transit innovations, such as electric cars, autonomous vehicles and shared-use options.
“Are we looking out at the future before we put millions every year into its operations?” Price said. “Things are changing dramatically. We can’t take dollars from crime or the general fund unless we know what we’re looking at is sustainable.”
Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, who last summer pushed to have property tax dollars put toward transit, said improving transit is important to the city’s future and should be a priority.
“Transit is an essential service to the citizens of Fort Worth and important economic driver,” she said. “Economic growth is going to be more and more dependent on the availability of transit.”