Fort Worth Dist. 2 Candidates Discuss Priorities, Taxes, Budget Shortfall
Fort Worth City Council Incumbent Sal Espino has represented District 2 since 2005, when Council member Jim Lane stepped down and recruited Espino.
Lane now says Espino has "lost his focus" and Lane wants to return to the seat he held from 1993-2005.
The newly draw District 2 is more than 60 percent Hispanic. It includes the neighborhoods north of downtown; the famed Stockyards and the Marine Creek Lake area which became part of the of District 2 after redistricting.
We asked Espino and Lane to tell us about their priorities; whether they would consider a tax rate increase; how they would address a projected budget shortfall, and if they would support mandatory water conservation measures.
FORT WORTH COUNCIL DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATES:
- Age: 45
- Profession: Title Company Attorney
- Elected Offices: Fort Worth Council– Since 2005
- Website: http://www.salespino.com/
- Age: 68
- Profession: Criminal Law Attorney
- Elected Offices: Tarrant Regional Water District – Since 2006 ; Fort Worth Council - 1993- 2005
Question: What is the biggest challenge facing the City of Fort Worth and why are you the best candidate in your district to assist in finding a solution?
Espino: In terms of issues directly within the city’s control, the key issues are transportation, public safety, and fiscal responsibility. During 2007 and 2008, we pushed for $300M in transportation/street improvements. We are moving forward with a May 2014 bond election in the amount of $276M including $196M more for transportation. We worked with stakeholders in securing funding to widen I-35W. On public safety, we have added 200 police officers, 100 firefighters and we’re building a $97M Public Safety Training Center. On fiscal responsibility, we have developed and are modifying a five-year plan which includes both operating and capital needs. As a growing city, Fort Worth must take care of its older neighborhoods and older infrastructure while making sure our newer neighborhoods receive the city services paid for by their taxes.
Lane: The biggest challenge is to find a way to fund the transportation and street repair issues facing Fort Worth residents. I represented District 2 for 12 years from 1993 to 2005. We cut taxes during my term and we were able to repair and rebuild streets in District 2. The planning for the Chisholm Trail Freeway was completed during my term.
Question: Under what circumstances would you vote to increase the City of Fort Worth property tax rate?
Espino: The City of Fort Worth has a tax rate of 85.5 cents per $100 valuation. Rather than increase the tax rate, during my tenure on the council, we have decreased the tax rate twice and passed a senior tax freeze. Instead of raising the tax rate, we should look to improve the average value of our homes and bring more jobs to Fort Worth. We also passed pension reform to address the almost $800M in potential liability to Fort Worth taxpayers.
Lane: I would cut non-essential services before I would vote for a tax increase.
The City of Fort Worth has projected a $50 million budget shortfall for next year, FY 2014. If that continues to be the case, what would you propose cutting to balance the budget?
Espino: Actually, with better revenues coming to the city in light of a continued improving economy, the shortfall is not $50M. Indeed, the City of Fort Worth has a solid bond rating and by law must always deliver a balanced budget. The City of Fort Worth should focus on core city services like public safety, streets, code compliance, parks, and libraries while looking to reduce stress on the city’s General Fund on non-essential services. The areas to focus would be lessening the bureaucracy by having less administrators and managers with more people on the ground like patrol officers, public works employees, code officers, and key personnel that make a difference in the lives of our citizens. Utilization of technology like E-government and municipal court kiosks are ways to further improve efficiency. Lastly, we continue to conduct management reviews of departments like the Human Resources Department and the Planning/Development Department to reduce costs. We have in the past conducted such reviews in other departments which have led to improvements in city services.
Lane: Our city charter requires the city manager to prepare a balanced budget and present it to city council. I will review the proposed budget cuts the city manager recommends and make my decision then.
Question: A growing number of North Texas cities are limiting lawn watering to twice a week, year round. Some are discussing more aggressive pricing to encourage water conservation. What measures should the City of Fort Worth adopt to conserve water and ensure a stable water supply in the future?
Espino: We need to work cooperatively with other cities in North Texas and local water districts to adopt a uniform and comprehensive water conservation plan. The State of Texas as a growing state is looking to increase investments in making sure Texans have adequate water in the near foreseeable future. I am not in favor of any measures which do not solicit major input and feedback from our citizens. I certainly support voluntary conservation efforts, the City’s Water Conservation Plan, and Drought Contingency & Emergency Water Management Plan which provides for stages of limiting lawn watering and other water uses during a drought.
Lane: Twice a week watering should be suggested to the council as a whole. The “Lawn Whisperer” is a great program. There are other suggestions coming from the Tarrant Regional Water District that should be followed to conserve water. The Tarrant Regional Water District has excellent programs in place to ensure a stable water supply for the next 30 years.