Tarrant County’s 2024 budget passed Tuesday with some last-minute changes prompted by Republican commissioners.
County Judge Tim O’Hare, and Commissioners Gary Fickes and Manny Ramirez voted against the staff-recommended budget.
The disagreement was over the precinct’s budgets managed by each county commissioner under the road and bridge fund. Commissioners are responsible for building and maintaining roads and bridges within their precinct in unincorporated areas of the county.
Precinct 2, which includes southeast Tarrant County, represented by Alisa Simmons, was slated to receive about $150,000 to fund community projects in 2024. Most of those dollars would have gone to nonprofit organizations in Precinct 2. Most other precincts were slated to receive between $25,000 and $50,000.
O’Hare opposes one precinct receiving significantly more funding than others, he said.
“I think it’s an unfair system,” O’Hare said. “I don’t think that’s how it should go.”
The budget initially passed, then commissioners returned to re-vote on the budget. It failed the second time around, before O’Hare moved to limit funding for community projects to $50,000 annually. That motion, and the budget, then passed 4-1, with Commissioner Alisa Simmons voting against.
After the flurry of votes subsided on Tuesday, Tarrant County approved its most significant tax rate cut in decades. The county’s budget contracted by about $8 million compared with the previous year’s; cuts to several departments achieved the county’s lowest tax rate in at least a decade.
The county also approved 3% pay raises for most elected officials. Under the new raises, County Judge Tim O’Hare’s annual salary will increase from $211,895.32 to $217,952.28. Salaries for commissioners will jump from $201,895.20 to $207,952.16.
The $896.6 million budget goes into effect Oct. 1. The county entered into the budgeting process with cuts in mind, Helen Giese, director of budget and risk management, said.
“It was just a matter of five-dollaring it to death all over the place,” Giese previously told the Report.
Following significant turnover on the Commissioners Court after the 2022 election, providing property tax relief was a major priority for new members. While campaigning, O’Hare said he would strive for a 20% cut to the county’s tax rate. The approved rate falls just 1 cent short.
Commissioners also voted to adopt a new 10% homestead exemption. The exemption will cost the county $28 million to $30 million in revenue and provide the average homeowner $34 in annual savings.
Property owners will pay 19.45 cents per every $100 of valuation, a 3-cent reduction from the current tax rate. That means the county will collect about $16.3 million, or 3% less property tax revenue in fiscal year 2024 than it did in 2023.
Fort Worth’s average homeowner would pay $399.48 in taxes to the county, with the county’s 10% homestead exemption.
The Commissioners Court may have to set aside future budget lines to pay back the federal government, public commenters said. Jackee Cox and Lydia Bean said commissioners’ recent decision to spend millions in federal funds to send Tarrant County inmates to a private prison and build a law enforcement training center could violate federal guidance.
“Upon close examination, it appears that both of these uses deviate from permissible uses of state and local fiscal recovery funds,” Bean said.
The budget will be long-time county administrator G.K. Maenius’ last with the county and Tuesday was his last meeting.
Despite the smaller budget, the county plans to add 21 new positions, including two more autopsy technicians in the medical examiner’s office and two new mental health therapists in juvenile services.
The county’s tax cuts, along with smaller tax rates at the city of Fort Worth, Fort Worth ISD, Tarrant County College and JPS, mean Tarrant County property owners likely will see a smaller property tax bill next year.
“A lot of times, people talk about tax cuts, and then when you get your bill, you actually look at it, and your tax bill is higher than it was before, which doesn’t seem a whole lot like a tax cut,” O’Hare said at a recent state of the county speech, where he celebrated the tax cuts.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Sept. 20 to clarify that Precinct 2’s community projects budget was cut to a $50,000 max following a vote by commissioners.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. 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.