Fund city transit with property taxes? Tell us more

Spur buses leave the Intermodal Transportation Center on Wednesday, August 29, 2012.
Spur buses leave the Intermodal Transportation Center on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. Star-Telegram archives

Fort Worth is a great place to live for many reasons.

A robust transit system is not one of them.

The city has been growing by leaps and bounds; its transportation budget hasn’t. As a consequence, many communities in Fort Worth remain underserved by the city bus system.

Fort Worth City Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, District 9, thinks she has a solution.

She wants the city to lower its proposed 3 cent reduction on the property tax rate to 2 cents and apply the remaining money to funding the city’s transit system.

Using property taxes to help fund transit would be a significant philosophical change for Cowtown.

Currently, Fort Worth funds the T with a half-cent of the city’s sales tax. In 2017, that amount was about $68 million. If Zadeh’s proposal were approved, it would generate about $5.7 million for transit.

“We will never be able to raise taxes to cover transit,” Zadeh said.

She’s right about that.

Financing transit systems is a sticky issue because not everyone uses them. This is Texas, after all, and many people prefer the comfort of their car to a city bus.

But almost everyone benefits from transit to some degree, if only because it can reduce traffic and some wear and tear on infrastructure.

Public transit also can be a lifeline for people who cannot drive or cannot afford a car to get around. And it’s an appealing form of transportation for millennials and residents of Fort Worth’s booming downtown.

Zadeh’s proposal isn’t a bad one. We do need to find more and better ways to fund local transit.

The City Council seemed to agree.

Its members voted 6-1 to consider setting the proposed property tax rate for 2018 to 81.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation — one cent higher, per Zadeh’s request.

Because the council already published the tax rate change, the city will have to restart the process of holding two public hearings on the rate and budget.

During those hearings, we’d like to know more about the city’s long-term plans for these funds. How would they be used to improve transit citywide so that all taxpayers would enjoy the benefits? And is the proposal a one-time expenditure or an annual stipend?

Fort Worth needs to up its investment in transit, but property owners need to know what they’re investing in and what they’re getting for their money. Once the city makes that clear, we’ll have a better idea if this proposal is worth supporting.