In 1996, back when the city of Fort Worth enacted an environmental fee on residential and commercial water bills, the funding primarily supported the removal of environmental hazards from aging buildings and investigating air and water quality complaints.
The monthly fee for residents is expected to triple from 50 cents per month to $1.50, while commercial water customers will see a price hike from $10 to $30 each month, according to Fort Worth’s proposed budget for financial year 2023. Industrial customers will now contribute $105 per month to the environmental fund, an increase of $70 from the current rate. Nonprofits and municipal facilities will pay $2.25, up from 75 cents.
Residents can expect to see more street sweepers and litter abatement crews in their neighborhoods as soon as early 2023, when the rate increase goes into effect, said Brandon Bennett, who oversees the city’s environmental department as Fort Worth’s code compliance director.
“It is a fee that within the first six months, everybody will see a huge momentum in litter pickup,” Bennett said. “In the first 12 months, people will see a much more beautiful city and within the first 18 months, people will really see a marked difference citywide.”
Before the economic recession between 2008 and 2012, other departments used their general funding to support cleanups of homeless camps and litter issues across the city.
After those services were cut during the city’s “lean years” of the late 2000s, Fort Worth began to use fees the solid waste management department collected to support litter abatement efforts, including the city’s beautification initiative Keep Fort Worth Beautiful. The 2012 shift was supposed to be temporary, Bennett said.
“We’re at a point now where the solid waste fund is not as healthy as it was,” he said. “We’re still in the black. We’re still doing OK, but if we continue to fund these litter and illegal dumping (initiatives) out of the fund, we’re gonna have to raise rates on our residential customers sooner than later.”
Shifting $4.4 million in litter control expenses from the solid waste fund to the environmental fund means that commercial and industrial customers will pick up more of the tab, Bennett said.
Fort Worth expects to increase annual environmental fund revenue from $4.9 million to $16.1 million. Six million dollars will be spent on more litter and illegal dumping services, according to an August presentation to City Council by assistant city manager Valerie Washington.
Bennett plans to increase the number of contracted litter cleanup crews – hired and managed by the Presbyterian Night Shelter’s UpSpire program, which employs unhoused people – from three to 10.
Fort Worth plans to purchase 10 more street sweepers to complete regular routes through the city’s most-littered neighborhoods, raising the city’s number of street sweepers to 12. The larger fleet should clean about 6,380 miles of road each month, as compared to the 580 miles cleaned currently.
“The city of Fort Worth, historically, has not been engaged in street sweeping and that fits with our very conservative, smaller government footprint,” Bennett said. “But we are now the 13th- largest city in America. We have lots of streets that need to be cleaned … and using street sweepers is one of the most efficient ways of doing it.”
Supply chain issues may delay the arrival of more street sweepers in Fort Worth, but Bennett said the city will begin hiring drivers and other field staff – including more water quality environmental specialists – so they can hit the ground running when equipment arrives.
With the additional resources, city crews should increase the amount of litter they collect each month from 5,200 pounds to 17,300 pounds, according to Washington’s projections. Bennett also expects his department to clean about 134 homeless camps each month with the assistance of Fort Worth police.
The fee increase must be approved by City Council members, who will vote on the 2023 budget on Sept. 27. Several council members, including District 3 Councilman Michael Crain, District 2 Councilman Carlos Flores and Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens, expressed support for the fee increase at a budget workshop last week.
Results from the city’s community litter survey, completed earlier this summer, also revealed widespread support for more litter removal services in Fort Worth.
About 42% of residents said litter is worse or much worse in Fort Worth compared to other cities, with majorities of respondents saying they see litter along highways and streets at least a few times per day. Two-thirds of respondents said they would be willing to pay at least $1 more each month for litter reduction initiatives.
“Our residents are telling us over and over again that they’d be willing to pay an extra buck a month if we pushed out an aggressive litter program like this,” Bennett said. “You can’t just look at it from a beautification standpoint, you have to understand that a clean city is also good for economic development.”
Raphael Brock, a district supervisor for Texas Parks and Wildlife and the president of Keep Fort Worth Beautiful’s board, said rapid population growth has made it even more difficult for the city to remove litter through volunteer cleanups alone.
He expects some pushback against the fee increase but believes the funding will go toward programs that are desperately needed citywide.
“Everybody understands that we need to invest in litter cleanup, but they’re always hesitant, because they’re wondering: Is this money going to be spent well? Is it going to go to the right place?” Brock said. “The code compliance staff that I work with, they’re really hard working. The funds are going to be taken care of, they’re not going to be frivolously spent and wasted.”
The $1 per month increase amounts to between 1% and 2% of a residential water bill. That percentage is even less for industrial customers who use high volumes of water each month, Bennett said. He hopes Fort Worth residents will see how the rate increase could make the city a safer and healthier place to live.
“There are neighborhoods in our city where there is a direct correlation between crime and grime,” Bennett said. “When we’ve been able to go in and keep the litter clean, it’s driven the petty crime rate down and says: ‘This is a safe neighborhood. People pay attention. You’re not coming here anymore to do your deeds.’ We see this as a clean city and safe city program.”
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.