Tarrant County voters approved all but one of the constitutional amendments on the Nov. 7 ballot, aligning with statewide results on measures affecting property taxes, infrastructure and the retirement age of judges. 

The election determined where the state spends some of its $32.7 billion surplus, creating new research endowments for universities and funds for water and parks investments. Texans took the rare step of rejecting an amendment proposal, with 63% voting against raising the mandatory retirement age for state judges from 75 to 79. 

2023 constitutional amendment election results

  • Proposition 1, “right to farm” amendment: Approved with 79% support
  • Proposition 2, child care tax exemption: Approved with 68% support
  • Proposition 3, requiring voters to approve any “wealth tax”: Approved with 68% support
  • Proposition 4, property tax cuts: Approved with 83% support
  • Proposition 5, endowment for university research: Approved with 64% support
  • Proposition 6, creation of Texas Water Fund: Approved with 78% support
  • Proposition 7, creation of natural gas power plant fund: Approved with 65% support
  • Proposition 8, creation of broadband infrastructure fund: Approved with 69% support
  • Proposition 9, cost-of-living raises for retired teachers: Approved with 84% support
  • Proposition 10, tax exemption for biomedical equipment: Approved with 55% support
  • Proposition 11, El Paso County’s ability to issue parks bonds: Approved with 63% support
  • Proposition 12, elimination of Galveston County’s treasurer: Approved with 53% support
  • Proposition 13, increase of mandatory and minimum retirement ages for judges: Rejected with 37% support
  • Proposition 14, creation of state parks fund: Approved with 76% support

Of registered voters in Tarrant County, 12.46%, or 155,997 people, cast ballots, according to unofficial election results. While the county’s numbers fell behind the state’s 14.4% turnout, Tarrant County outperformed its 11.8% turnout in the 2019 constitutional amendment election. 

What is the impact on property taxes, Tarrant Appraisal District? 

Thanks to the approval of voters, Tarrant County homeowners will see an impact on this year’s property tax bill. The county already sent property tax bills to residents with the assumption that Proposition 4 would pass. If a resident needs a refund, it will be applied automatically. 

Proposition 4 implements these steps

  • Places a temporary appraisal limit on properties that are worth less than $5 million and don’t receive a homestead exemption. It prevents appraisals from rising more than 20% each year until 2026. 
  • Increases the state’s school district homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000.
  • Expands the number of businesses that do not have to pay state franchise tax. 
  • Allows voters to elect three members to their local appraisal district. Currently, local taxing entities appoint members of the board of directors.

Residents “already see (the discounts) reflected in the bill they have in hand or can download from our website today,” Wendy Burgess, Tarrant County’s tax assessor-collector, said. 

Tax bills are considered late after Jan. 31, Burgess said. Residents in Tarrant County can pay half of their property tax bill no later than Nov. 30, 2023, making the next payment due by July 1, 2024. 

Residents should see a hefty discount on their tax bills thanks in part to the increased school district homestead exemption and several cuts to local tax rates. The average tax bill is $643 lower for a home appraised at the average market value in Tarrant County. 

Tarrant Appraisal District is the entity responsible for assessing home values across the county. Tarrant County residents and policy makers have recently raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the appraisal district, culminating in the resignation of Chief Appraiser Jeff Law in September. Proposition 4 will require the appraisal district to hold an election next May. 

The new appraisal caps required under Proposition 4 will go into effect in 2024, interim Chief Appraiser William Durham said in a statement. Property owners whose most recent appraisal on their property exceeded the 20% cap will have to wait until they receive their next tax bill to see the impact of the amendment, Durham said. 

Voters mill in and out of Colleyville Public Library on Nov. 7, 2023. Of registered Tarrant County voters, 12.46% cast ballots in the constitutional amendment elections. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

Child care providers will also get a tax break thanks to Proposition 2, which exempts qualified  facilities used to run a child care business from paying property taxes. The new amendment allows cities and counties to decide to put the exemption in place.

The tax discount is a win for child care providers who are typically operating on thin margins, said Catherine Davis, director of policy at nonprofit Child Care Associates. Providers will likely be able to pass along the savings created by the tax discount to families or increase the quality of care, Davis said. 

“We’re thrilled voters in Fort Worth and Tarrant County showed up for child care at the polls this year,” Davis said. “This is the first step in uplifting child care providers as essential to our community.” 

The discount is not a silver bullet, though, Davis said. To chip away at a growing child care crisis, local and state officials should create more policies to support child care providers, she added. 

Will Fort Worth access $1B in water infrastructure funding? 

The state will establish a $1 billion water infrastructure fund aimed at fixing aging pipes and water mains. 

The new Texas Water Fund, established with the passage of Proposition 6, will be used for  water and wastewater projects in small, rural water utilities; water supply strategies, such as desalination and recycling of water used in natural gas drilling; water projects identified in state water plans; and public awareness programs. 

The fund could help cities struggling to meet demand for water created by rapid population growth and deep droughts, Jennifer Walker, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Texas Coast and Water Program, said.

“We’ve got water supply constraints, and we also have aging infrastructure,” Walker said. “Building systems to meet new growth and population demand and creating additional water supplies takes a lot, and keeping infrastructure up to date is a huge investment.”

Crews responded to a massive water main break on Lancaster Avenue in downtown Fort Worth on Aug. 17, 2023. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

 Texas cities experience high amounts of water loss because of unfixed leaks and breaks in pipelines, Walker added. Fort Worth lost about 6 billion gallons of water last year, with nearly all of its main breaks coming from old pipes. 

“Maybe in the past we could afford to lose that amount of water, but we definitely can’t now as the state continues to grow and water supplies get more limited and we want to have water left over to meet environmental needs in the future,” Walker said. “It’s not a cheap problem to solve, but it is cost effective.” 

Fort Worth welcomes the opportunity to apply for any additional source of low-interest or interest-free funds, said Mary Gugliuzza, a spokesperson for the city’s water department. 

Finance staff regularly evaluate options to obtain dollars from state and federal programs, but Fort Worth doesn’t always rank high in priority because other communities may have fewer financial resources and more urgent public health challenges, she said. There’s no guarantee that the city or any other water utility will obtain dollars through this new fund, Gugliuzza added. 

“The reality is there are more needs than dollars,” Gugliuzza said. “We estimate it would take more than $1.6 billion to replace the remaining 805 miles of cast-iron pipe in our system. That is at today’s costs. On top of that, we have aging infrastructure in the wastewater collection system and at our treatment facilities that require funding.” 

Texas State Parks Division Director Rodney Franklin, right, introduces Palo Pinto Mountains State Park superintendent James Adams on Oct. 11, 2022. Crews need to finish public buildings, campsites and roads before the park 80 miles west of Fort Worth can open to the public. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Fort Worth groups celebrate $1B in state parks funding

Texas Parks and Wildlife received $1 billion during its centennial year. Parks officials are expected to use the funds on acquiring land for new state parks. 

North Texas will soon be home to its first new state park in 25 years with the opening of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, halfway between Fort Worth and Abilene. 

More than 90 organizations, including Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge and the Fort Worth-based Great Plains Restoration Council, joined the Texas Coalition for State Parks to push for Proposition 14, which passed with 76% support. 

Haily Summerford, executive director of Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, said that her organization frequently partners with the state agency on events and programs. 

“In that experience working with state park leaders, it was very obvious that they need the additional funding to really invest in repairs and improvements,” Summerford said. 

George Bristol, a longtime conservationist based in Fort Worth, is the author of the new Texas state park history book, “Texas State Parks: The First 100 Years, 1923-2023.” (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

Challenges facing state parks are familiar to George Bristol, a Fort Worth parks advocate who organized a coalition to support the 2019 constitutional amendment permanently allocating sporting goods sales tax revenue to the parks system and the Texas Historical Commission. That amendment passed with 88% support, leading to increased funding for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Although he called a few legislators and raised money to support Proposition 14, Bristol also appreciated seeing the next generation of environmental leaders pick up the torch for state parks. While researching his book, “Texas State Parks: The First 100 Years, 1923-2023,” he found that every generation of Texas nature advocates thought the parks system was on the verge of falling apart. 

“But somebody always stepped in at just the right moment and saved the day,” Bristol said. “There are some younger people who can do a good job and are as enthusiastic about it as I was. I welcome it. I’m 83 years old. Somebody better be ready to step into my shoes.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.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.

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Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...