Fort Worth City Council voted to approve the fiscal year 2023 general fund budget Tuesday, capping off a months-long process to fund the future of Fort Worth.
The approved budget is about $83 million larger than last year’s, despite a two-cent decrease in the tax rate. Revenue to the city will increase despite the tax rate cut, as property valuations have continued to rise in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
Council members debated for over 30 minutes about whether to lower the tax rate another two cents, from 71.25 cents per $100 of value tax rate to 69.25 cents. A proposal to do just that was introduced by District 3 council member Michael Crain, but ultimately failed after the rest of the council voted against it.
“I’m proud of the budget as it was presented at the 71 cent rate,” District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck said. “I understand that rate might not be palatable to everyone. But I think that is what the 12th-largest city in the fastest-growing city in this nation needs. So I will not be supporting this measure to arbitrarily lower the tax rate.”
The newest council member to the dias, District 4’s Alan Blaylock, wanted to lower the tax rate further to 66.6 cents per $100 of value. That rate would result in no new property tax revenue for the city compared to last year on the same property. When campaigning, he said, residents emphasized public safety, roads and property taxes as their top priorities.
“I consistently heard, consistently, the people wanted tax relief,” Blaylock said. “And I pledged to give and I made a campaign commitment. And I’m going to keep it for the no new revenue rate.”
District 2 council member Carlos Flores said while it’s clear Fort Worth residents need tax relief, cutting the city budget isn’t the answer.
“The city reflects one-third, approximately, of your total property tax bill,” he said. “There is no question that residents need further relief. Where should that come from? It should come from the other two-thirds, those other taxing entities and, quite frankly, the state Legislature.”
The approved $915.3 million general fund budget will go into effect Oct. 1 and end Sept. 30, 2023. It includes funding for new police, fire and development services staff. In all, the city will fund 197 new staff positions across all departments.
In early August, City Manager David Cooke announced five strategic priorities: a safe and clean community, infrastructure stewardship, supporting growth, workforce recruitment and retention and tax rate reduction.
To promote community safety and growth, the code department will receive seven more employees to inspect multifamily developments, and the city will double investments in streetlights and pavement markings. With the new funding, the city expects to shorten its response time for burned-out streetlights to 30 days.
City officials are also hoping to stem the tide of resignations and retirements by putting $153,000 toward performance-based raises. For general employees, performance raises are budgeted at 4%.
Anf, for the first time since 1996, Fort Worth’s environmental fee will increase. The fee will triple from 50 cents per month to $1.50 for residents, and jump even further for commercial and industrial customers.
The budget has not meaningfully changed since it was initially proposed by Cooke in August. The city hosted multiple budget workshops, where residents were invited to share their input on the budget, throughout August and September. While two speakers voiced displeasure with the tax rate Tuesday, District 5 council member Gyna Bivens felt their comment was too little, too late.
“Why didn’t all these people come to these (workshop) meetings?” Bivens asked. “I also question, are these really reflective of the public because the public told us they wanted more police, they wanted more fire. They wanted to help fight violent crime. I don’t want to disrupt any of that.”
For a full recap of this year’s budget discussions, and to see which departments are gaining new funding, click through the Fort Worth Report’s previous coverage:
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. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.