Mayor Betsy Price Outlines Priorities for Fort Worth
Women’s Policy Forum member and speaker Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price spoke to more than 70 members and guests at the July meeting about her priorities for the city in her term. On the anniversary of her first swearing in as mayor, Price outlined an ambitious agenda to keep Fort Worth vital and liveable.
Describing a city grappling with explosive growth in the coming years, Price said Fort Worth will strive to keep its open and friendly atmosphere as it becomes one of two major cities in the third busiest region in the United States by 2028.
“Although 72 percent of our citizens like living here, they tend to hunker down in their neighborhoods and don’t talk. I believe community engagement is the only way to know what is happening in your city. My rolling town halls, meetings, social media engagement, all are designed to get the city talking,” she said. She described combining cycling with talking to improve the overall population's health, which is expected to decline in future generations for the first time.
“Stop Six will be pilot program for a targeted economic development initiative led by our city manager David Cooke,” said Price. “We’re investing in new sidewalks, street lights, police patrols, equipment in an effort to improve pride and vitality in this area. Stop Six has lowest highest graduation rate in the city and 20 percent unemployment.”
Price said the effort will include a new YMCA to encourage activity and a community pool.
Las Vegas Trail is another area of concern. Price said the West Fort Worth area has a high incidence of crime and child abuse in concentrations of apartment complexes owned by absentee landlords. Two elementary schools designed for a total of approximately 800 children now serve 1200. Schools serve a transitional population that challenges educators. A task force has been formed to study the issues and come up with ideas for solutions.
“We must address child abuse quickly and wrap services around these families,” she said.
“Public education is the backbone of a strong city,” she said. “We have let public schools slide, now we must reclaim them.” FWISD’s Superintendent Kent Scribner, Price and a coalition of businesses are working to improve reading and literacy in children from birth to third grade as a prime indicator of academic success.
Price cited data correlating reading levels to high school graduation rates and successful, productive lives.
“We’ve created an Early Learning Alliance to focus on improving literacy and bringing test scores up in our elementary schools,” she said. “We are making progress with slight improvements in scores in schools that have mentoring programs.”
She characterized the latest Texas Legislature as the most difficult for counties and cities in some time. “If we are to continue the Texas miracle, we have to get over bathroom issues and focus on important stuff,” she said.
Price testified multiple times in Austin because she is a mostly conservative leader of a major city. She lamented the erosion of local control in cities over ordinances and zoning that she feels is critical to being responsive to the needs of the community. Moves to cap property tax rates are ill-advised, she said.
The average property tax bill is 54 percent education. “Stifling the ability to raise taxes for important issues doesn’t fix the property tax problem. The Legislature needs to revise education funding to ensure cities do not have to make up the difference.”
“My message to the lieutenant governor is that city governments are the closest to the people and understand their needs,” she said. “Our trash, our potholes, our schools don’t care if you are an R or a D.”
Racial task force
A recent controversy over a police arrest of a resident in southeast Fort Worth surfaced inequities that have existed but have not been dealt with in a concerted manner, the mayor said. Price convened a 25-person task force led by four co-chairs to study inequities in Fort Worth and report recommendations to the city. “This is a community task force, not a city task force,” she said.
Four co-chairs will report back to city leaders in six months.
In follow-up questions, Price addressed Senate Bill 4 on sanctuary cities. Four cities in Texas have joined a lawsuit against the bill which penalizes any municipality for not identifying and deporting undocumented residents. “We will continue to police as we always have and will not be asking people for their papers at every traffic stop,” she said. “Joining the suit could have negative repercussions as the state has indicated it may sue cities who challenged the law.”
Tree ordinances under scrutiny at the Legislature also drew pointed comments from Price. “The attacks on local control have more to do with Austin than other cities in Texas,” she said. “I’ve emphasized to our elected officials over and over that not every city is like Austin. People choose to live in cities because of their character and atmosphere; if voters don’t like what we are doing, they can kick their city leaders to the curb at the next election.”
Price concluded by emphasizing that Fort Worth continues to prosper citing a 56 percent growth in population since 2000. Estimates are 420 people per week move to the Fort Worth area. Toronto, Mexico City and Montreal are the state’s largest trading partners making the D/FW area the heart of the NAFTA Highway. Alliance is the largest inland port in the U.S.
“Fort Worth has good bones,” Price said. “We must continue to work to maintain our unique character.”