Fort Worth’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 would add 294 new staff positions and lower the tax rate by 4 cents, city manager David Cooke told council members at an Aug. 8 presentation.
Cooke’s proposal includes $1.013 billion in the general fund budget, which funds the majority of city services. This is the first time in the city’s history that the general fund budget has reached $1 billion, increasing about 11% from last year’s budget of $913 million.
The budget calls for lowering the city’s tax rate by 4 cents, to $0.6725 per $100 assessed value. Residents with the average taxable home value of $228,211 will pay about $1,534 in property taxes to the city. That’s about a $115 increase compared with the average tax bill last year. The average taxable home value increased by about $29,000 from July 2022 to July 2023, according to data from the Tarrant Appraisal District.
The city controls its portion of residents’ tax bill through the tax rate. While the tax rate is lower, many homeowners likely will see an increase in the overall taxes they pay due to increasing appraisal values. Appraisals are handled by the Tarrant Appraisal District, meaning the city of Fort Worth has no say in those values.
The city expects to collect an additional $71.5 million in tax revenue compared to last year, due in large part to rising property appraisals. New construction will account for about 26% of taxable property value in 2024.
“This is the largest property tax rate reduction in real terms, and in percentage, in at least the last 30 years,” Cooke said.
Last year, council members approved a 2 cent reduction in the tax rate, from $0.7325 per $100 of value tax rate to $0.7125. At the time, several council members felt that decrease didn’t go far enough.
As council members learned the details of the budget for the first time on Aug. 8, their questions focused primarily on what was missing from the proposal. District 2 council member Carlos Flores, who represents the neighborhoods north of downtown, asked if the city could invest more in replacing cast iron pipes, which are more susceptible to bursting during extreme weather.
Newcomer Charlie Lauersdorf, who represents District 4, said he thinks more patrol officers than the proposed 21 are necessary to meet demands of the city’s growing population. Mayor Mattie Parker wants to ensure the city is investing enough money to keep up with growth and work harder to reach out to residents to keep them informed about the proposed budget.
“Otherwise, none of this matters, because people don’t know we’re doing it,” Parker said.
What’s Fort Worth’s budget schedule?
- City Council will meet in budget work sessions Aug. 10, 24, 24 and Sept. 7 and 8.
- A public budget discussion with city manager David Cooke is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at City Hall.
- A public hearing on the budget will be held Sept. 12.
- A public hearing on tax revenue will be held Sept. 19.
- The city is also finalizing the schedule for district-specific community meetings to discuss the budget.
- Council members must pass the final budget before the start of the next fiscal year Oct. 1.
The only department who will see a slight decrease in their expected revenue this year compared to last is development services. In 2023, development services received a $10 million increase in funding, a 49% change from 2022. The decrease in revenue will not have a large impact on the department’s budget, as development services still expects to add an additional staff member in 2024.
Council members must approve a new budget before the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1.
Investments in infrastructure maintenance
Transportation and public works would see an approximately $9 million funding increase in the proposed budget. That money would go toward a new concrete crew and equipment to reduce an existing street repair backlog. In addition, the department would establish a pilot program to use artificial intelligence to assess pavement conditions across the city.
Reducing flooding across the city is also top of mind. The stormwater fee would increase 15% under the proposed budget —the first such fee increase since 2019. About half of the funds from the stormwater fees will go toward new capital projects aimed at flooding mitigation, Cooke said. The other half will go toward maintaining existing flood mitigation infrastructure.
The city would spend $2.9 million over the next year on cleaning and inspecting culverts to reduce flood risks across Fort Worth.
An additional $3.5 million is set aside to improve maintenance levels at the city’s parks and public facilities. That amount includes creating new gateways, improving parkways and adding lighting.
City management also recommends a 3.5% increase in water rates, and a 2.9% increase in wastewater rates. Those would be the first increases to those rates in four years.
The neighborhood services department would see its budget double in 2024. The increase will allow the city to add an additional neighborhood to its neighborhood improvement program. Now, the city chooses one neighborhood annually to participate in the program; seven neighborhoods, including the Northside and Las Vegas Trail, have participated so far.
The program invests money into infrastructure and community engagement in neighborhoods identified as being economically depressed. Since the program was created in 2017, its investments have proven popular among participating neighborhoods, Cooke said.
Public safety staffing increases, MedStar funding
The proposed budget calls for hiring 106 new police department employees, 21 of whom would be in the patrol division. Those employees would be paid for through a mix of general funding and Crime Control and Prevention District funds, which collects revenue through a half-cent sales tax.
“I don’t think more necessarily means enough,” Lauersdorf said of the police staffing, adding he wants Cooke to consider further increases.
The increased staffing plan comes as the police department struggles to fill its current positions. In March, the department had more than 100 unfilled positions.
The fire department would gain 76 new employees, the majority of which would be sworn firefighters. The fire staffing increase was first presented to council Aug. 1 by the fire ad-hoc committee. High overtime hours have plagued the fire department for several years, and city staff said the new positions should help ease that burden.
District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck, who represents downtown and south central Fort Worth, asked Cooke to provide a more detailed presentation on the police and fire staffing plans as well as a timeline for new hires.
The proposed budget also sets aside $4.2 million to help keep MedStar, the area ambulance authority, functioning while a third-party vendor gathers recommendations for future financing options. The Fort Worth Report previously reported on a request by MedStar for $1.5 million per quarter in the next year.
New library in District 7
The majority of Fort Worth residents live outside of Loop 820, while the majority of city libraries operate inside of it. That disparity prompted city management to propose a new library in District 7 in the 2024 budget.
The new library would operate inside a retail location, similar to La Gran Biblioteca inside of the La Gran Plaza mall. Its exact location has not been released.
Expanding library services outside of Loop 820 has been a priority for library staff in recent years, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage. The Golden Triangle Library, which opened in 2020 and operates at 4264 Golden Triangle Blvd., is also outside of the loop
The announcement of the proposed library comes as the city continues to search for a new downtown library location and a new director. The Central Library closed its doors June 30, after the building was sold to a national investment firm in December 2022. If the city can’t come to terms on a sale for a new library location, staff will also consider moving the branch inside of the current City Hall building.
City management propose better benefits, salaries
Fort Worth is working to improve recruitment and retention citywide by increasing salaries and adding sign-on incentives for hard-to-fill positions, Cooke said. City employees will also be eligible for average 4% merit increases. Overall, pay structures will increase by about 3%.
About 300 staff members will be added to the city’s payroll in 2024. The bulk of that staff, about 182, will go to police and fire. However, parks and recreation will receive 22 additional staff members while transportation and public works will receive 18 additional staff members.
The 2024 budget will also include a new department: environmental services. The new department will include solid waste, health and environmental quality. Environmental services will be tasked with managing solid waste pick-up and drop off along with air and water quality, litter, environmental investigation and industrial compliance with city environmental policy. Those units previously worked under the code compliance department.
The FWLab, which is the city’s newly transformed data and analytics department, will receive 13 additional staff. The department aims to create a more data-driven approach to budgeting and bond programs.
Beck asked city management to explain what return on investment council can expect after adding new positions to FWLab, which is about to launch a revamp of Fort Worth’s comprehensive plan.
“It behooves us to take a harder look at that and make sure that we aren’t becoming too top heavy as a city, too bureaucratic,” Beck said.
The city will also roll out an additional 6-week maternity leave program, along with an existing paid parental leave policy. Employee co-pays in one of the city’s healthcare plans will also be reduced by about half, Cooke said.
“That’s all recruiting and retaining the best workforce, which is one of our key strategies,” Cooke said.
Housing and homelessness
The city would also increase staffing to the police department’s HOPE team in 2024. Officers in the HOPE team conduct outreach with homeless residents in Fort Worth, connecting them with resources and disrupting camp sites. Three police officers and one sergeant would join the team in 2024.
The increase is a part of an overall 11% increase to the city’s crime control and prevention district fund.
Initial discussions on how the city plans to invest more dollars to reduce homelessness were broad, Beck said.
“I’d like some more specifics on what we’re doing,” Beck said.
Overall, Cooke said the city plans to add $1 million toward homeless services, including funding for a voucher program to help people find permanent housing.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Charlie Lauersdorf’s name.
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.