Nine and 11 were the magic numbers of the Fort Worth city charter election May 7 – voters approved nine of the 11 propositions, and one of the approved propositions would increase the number of city council members from nine to 11.
Voters defeated Proposition 1, which would have lengthened council members’ terms from two years to three years, and Proposition 3, which would have raised council members’ salaries from $25,000 to $45,000 per year and the mayor’s salary from $29,000 to $60,000 per year.
With two more council members coming in with the first election after the 2020 census, the city will consider renovating city hall to make room for the new officials, Mayor Betsy Price said.
While the council meeting chambers likely won’t be renovated, Price said, additional offices might be added at city hall.
“We will probably look at, is there any construction that’s going to be needed to be done to add two more people?” she said. “Probably not on the dais in the council chamber because it’s easy to move the city manager and the city attorney who stood up there with us. We can move them down there with the city secretary so we’ll have two seats on the dais, but the office space for people is what we’re going to take a look at.”
The city council will consider putting the renovations in the 2017 budget. Discussions on the budget begin in August, with the vote scheduled for September.
Regarding the other city charter propositions, Price said she felt the election results were “pretty good” overall, although she said she was “disappointed” at the voter turnout.
About 4 percent, or 16,000, of 394,697 registered Tarrant County voters participated in the charter election, according to unofficial results from the Tarrant County Election Administration.
Voters passed all eight propositions that dealt with technical amendments to the city charter. They also passed Proposition 2, adding two council members from what will be two new council districts. The new council will increase from 8 to 10 district representatives plus the mayor.
Allan Saxe, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, said Fort Worth’s council is “headed in the right direction” with the results of the charter election. He said he wasn’t surprised that voters didn’t approve higher council salaries and longer terms but believes adding more council members was a “natural” move considering Fort Worth’s growing population.
The city currently has a population of more than 800,000 people and grows by an average of 20,000 a year, according to City Manager David Cooke. If that continues, its population could reach 1 million in less than 20 years.
“Fort Worth is becoming the ‘it’ city,” Saxe said. “It’s doing very well.”
One drawback to having a larger council is that it can become “unwieldy,” he said. New York City, for example, has 51 council members for about 8.6 million people. Saxe said larger councils often act more like a legislature than a city council.
But Fort Worth is not quite there yet, he said.
He said he believes the election results work out in Fort Worth’s favor.
“I think [voters] made some good, sound decisions,” Saxe said. “It can be revisited later on if they feel that they need to put these things back on the table.”
No matter the results, Price said, she’s glad that the people who did vote were able to make changes to a city charter that hadn’t been amended since 2006.
“There is really no wrong vote on a charter election,” Price said. “We just wanted our citizens to get educated about it and vote for whatever they felt was best for them.”
T&P Warehouse future
The city has terminated its tax increment funding (TIF) agreement with Cleopatra Investments for the redevelopment of the T&P Warehouse on Lancaster Avenue, due to Cleopatra's inability to provide a funding plan for the project, said Jungus Jordan, District 6 city councilman and chairman of the Lancaster TIF board.
The city and Cleopatra have been discussing redevelopment of the eight-story, 580,000-square-foot building since 2007, when the board promised $11 million to Cleopatra to assist with the project. But since Cleopatra has not presented the board with financial documents outlining the funding plan for the project, no money was awarded.
City staff and attorneys last met with Cleopatra on April 21. Jordan said the parties met for 12 hours but couldn't come to a resolution on how to fund the project.
Economic Development Director Robert Sturns said Cleopatra has not indicated that the group will attend the next Lancaster TIF meeting on May 16.
Cleopatra owns the T&P Warehouse and will be responsible for figuring out how to rehabilitate the building in the future, Jordan said. One of the last remaining Art Deco buildings in Fort Worth, the building was completed in 1931. It was primarily used for the storage, distribution and refrigeration of products, but also had offices and showrooms for the businesses there.
It was designed by Fort Worth architects Wyatt C. Hendricks and Herman P. Koeppe. It has been vacant for several years.
Sturns said the city still hopes to see the building rehabilitated, but as of now it remains vacant.