Fort Worth

Fort Worth approves $1.8 billion budget with focus on shoring up infrastructure

Fort Worth’s budget will grow despite the council cutting the property tax rate by nearly 4 cents.

The council Tuesday approved a budget that drops the tax rate from 78.50 to 74.75, but most Fort Worth homeowners will still see increases in their property tax bill as appraisals climb. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 with a homestead exemption would pay $1,119.60 in city property taxes.

“We are the only major city in Texas to lower the tax rate,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said. “I’m excited about what this budget has to offer ... It really does improve services while keeping that rate down.”

The council approved the 2020 budget on a 5-3 vote.

The 2020 budget, about $1.8 billion, focuses heavily on maintaining infrastructure. Increased revenue will fund street repairs, sidewalk work and new street lights. Much of that will be done in low income and minority neighborhoods that may have been neglected over the years, City Manager David Cooke has said.

Cash will be devoted to these efforts:

$500,000 more per year for street lighting devoted primarily to minority neighborhoods and the city backlog of work.

$750,000 more per year for sidewalks, or eight to 10 blocks worth of sidewalks per year.

$1.1 million for mowing and alleyway maintenance.

$500,000 more a year for fixing streets.

$1.4 million a year for pavement markings.

$1.5 million more for public transit programs including app development, a Medical District ZIPZONE and other initiatives.

Residents will see a 6.5% increase in stormwater fees to support up to $70 million in bond-funded work to tackle flash flooding problems. The budget also includes an increase to the water and sewer fee to cover increased costs for infrastructure and department personnel. The typical homeowner will pay $2.47 more a month or less than $30 a year.

The city’s operating budget will see a roughly $68.3 million increase over last year. The police department makes up up the bulk of the general fund at $267.2 million followed by the fire department at $159.4 million. Both will departments will see increased funding and more staff in 2020.

The majority of the new positions will be in the police department. The department could get 58 new positions, including 35 officers and 21 cadets. A new fire station at Highway 287 and Harmon Road will include 14 new firefighters.

The budget includes adding several new positions to other city departments, including a civilian police monitor and a diversity and inclusion director. The diversity and inclusion department will have a budget of more than $942,000.

The code compliance department will also see a boost with six new code enforcement officers and 29 additional animal control officers for a north animal shelter. In addition to an events coordinator the library will add 10 employees, primarily for the new Reby Cary Youth Library.

Not everyone was on board with the budget and tax rate.

Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon, whose District 4 includes parts of east and north Fort Worth, was the only “no” vote on the property tax rate and revenue increase, but he was joined by Councilmen Jungus Jordan and Brian Byrd in voting against the budget.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in August that Moon had reservations about approving the budget, saying he thought more could be done to save money and run departments efficiently. Byrd echoed Moon’s comments Tuesday, saying he wanted more information about possible efficiencies before supporting the budget.

Before voting against the budget, Moon praised city staff.

“As a Fort Worth citizen we can be proud of the stewardship,” he said.

Moon also opposed spending roughly $300,000 on a two-person civilian police monitor department.

During public comment at two budget hearings and Tuesday night, a handful of residents said they supported the budget but wanted the city to devote more money to a civilian police monitor.

Pamela Young, with the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight, argued that the department would fail if the city didn’t increase funding, staff and resources She added that trust in the police department was at jeopardy.

“The proposed allocation is woefully insufficient,” she said.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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