It’s city budget time in North Texas. Now comes the opportunity for citizens to engage with their elected representatives to shape the coming year.
Everything cities do to deliver public services across the community are found in the annual budget. The cost of all of that is funded by taxpayers, and now is the time to have your say about what will come out of your pocket to achieve the results you want to support your daily life.
Town hall meetings, public hearings, and easy access to the decision makers are underway, and, if history is any guide, only a few citizens will participate in any of it.
Like most cities, Arlington and Fort Worth have given citizens voluminous information about what’s in the proposed budget and have highlighted plans to address what many have said they want to see that will add to their quality of life.
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All of it is easily accessed with a couple of clicks on your city’s website and distributed on Facebook and through other interactive opportunities, resulting in more ways than ever for people to be informed and empowered.
Comments from citizens so far include competing expressions from those who want a greater reduction in the city’s tax rate than has been proposed and others who want to see new or expanded services. Response to those who want the city to do more will result in one of two outcomes. Either the higher costs will drive a corresponding increase in taxes or something else the city is doing will have to be cut.
One of the longest and most passionate statements comes from a citizen who began with, “Nothing was mentioned about the outrageous school tax.” The writer goes on to demand that the mayor do something about this “unfair” tax.
Among the other benefits of this citizen weighing in is that she has now discovered that her complaint should be addressed to another local government, since the city is not the entity managing public education.
Something else Arlington has done this year is to give the average household in the city ways to relate to their cost for services compared to alternatives. For example, in the area of public safety – the most expensive thing in the budget – the cost of operating the entire fire department costs that household $19 per month, compared to a single-use home fire extinguisher priced at about $20.
In the police department, the monthly cost comes to $41 to provide reaction to 911 calls, 649 police officers, a response time of less than 10 minutes, and a continued reduction in crime. That cost is then compared to the monthly monitoring fee for a home security system of $35 that very likely will result in greater delays in getting the help you need.
In the parks and recreation department, you get 94 parks, 56 miles of hiking and biking trails, and abundant opportunities for health and physical fitness programs all for $7 a month. That compares to a monthly gym membership priced at about $30.
Seven libraries with over 600,000 items for adults and children cost $3 a month per household vs. an Amazon Prime membership that runs three times that much.
Public works and transportation provides more than 3,000 miles of streets, many thousands of streetlights, traffic signals, signs, and over 6,000 potholes filled for $14 per month compared to a full tank of gasoline at around $40.
Cities keep doing more and more to inform citizens of what it costs to meet their expectations, where the money comes from, and the constant pressure on the budget to just maintain current levels of service when inflation alone means it will always cost more.
What do you think about all of this? Now’s the time for your answer.