The Fort Worth City Council, at its Sept. 26 meeting, approved the Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget of $1.7 billion with a 9-0 vote. It includes a tax rate of 80.5 cents per $100.
The city’s tax rate for 2016-2017 was 83.5 cents per $100.
But bus transportation and the advancement thereof in Fort Worth garnered the spotlight at the meeting, as it has for some time. Several members from the community in favor of expansion, including Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce chairperson Allyson Baumeister, addressed the council on the subject in a public hearing.
“Investing in your community and managing budgets is neither conservative nor liberal,” said Jeff Davis, speaking on behalf of a group representing Tarrant County College in favor of mass transit expansion.
Another community member, Robert Montoya, warned the council that unless the health care portion of the budget is managed better, it could endanger the future expansion of mass transit.
“The question will be health care or buses,” he said. “There won’t be enough money for both.”
An alternate tax rate of 81.5 cents per $100 was proposed mid-process and public hearings on the new proposed rate and budget were scheduled for Sept. 22 and 26. Because there was not a quorum at the Sept. 22 meeting, the council voted on the originally proposed budget and tax rate.
The plans for the alternate tax rate was to add nearly $6 million to the city’s bus transit system.
District 9 Council Member Ann Zadeh has been a strong advocate for the alternative tax rate. However, she said she would not let that stand in the way of her supporting the budget.
“While I’m very disappointed this budget doesn’t include more funding for transit, it doesn’t mean I feel I should explode the whole budget,” she said.
District 5 Council Member Gyna Bivens said she was in support of the extra penny of tax and encouraged community members to continue to show support of the transit system. She cited examples such as taking a train to Dallas and encouraging friends to ride along more often.
“Hold onto the faith. Don’t stop supporting the T,” she said. “You may not like the outcome of the vote tonight, but we’re doing the best we can.”
District 6 Council Member Jungus Jordan said he is in favor of expansion of mass transit, but he doesn’t believe the alternate tax rate would have provided all the necessary funding, saying it “would not give us a transit system anyone would be proud of.”
“Stay passionate, stay engaged, but the council has to go on priorities,” he said. “It took us 55 years from inception of the Chisholm Trail Parkway to get it done.
“I pledge I will continue to try and find a way to fund a transit system, but not piecemeal.”
District 7 Council Member Dennis Shingleton likened the funding from the alternate tax for mass transit expansion to buying someone a hubcap when they need a new car.
“What the hell does that do for you?” he said. “Ten years from now I’ll buy you another hubcap.”
District 4 Council Member Cary Moon, who missed the Sept. 22 meeting but held a press conference outside city hall the next day, has called for a public vote to find transit funding.
” The chamber [an earlier speaker] sums up a need for a coordinated effort to identify the players of who all needs to be engaged in all of that so that the burden is not 100 percent on Fort Worth residents.
“Good things will come as a result of the things over the last week,” he said.
Mayor Betsy Price asked City Manager David Cooke to form a task force to look into the possibility of funding mass transit expansion in the 2018-19 Fiscal Year budget. She also asked for a report on the progress after 90 days.
Price also said when the subject of expanding mass transit is addressed, it should include all of Tarrant County and not just Fort Worth.