Denton City Hall

Denton City Hall

After a hectic meeting Tuesday hindered by technological issues, the Denton City Council passed a property tax rate of 56.5 cents per $100 valuation and voted to keep the mask mandate.

The 56.5 cent rate was referred to as the “no new revenue” rate because it would bring in the same amount of revenue as the previous year. The general fund budget revenue would be about $150 million under the no-new-revenue rate.

The rate approved Tuesday is lower than Denton’s current property tax rate, 59.045 cents per $100 valuation, but because property values have risen, many homeowners may see an increase in their city tax bill.

The City Council’s agenda Tuesday was packed with work session and action items, though city staff had technical difficulties with the audio in the Council Chambers and in the work session room, pushing the regular meeting start time from 6:30 p.m. to about 8 p.m. Many action items and some public hearings were postponed for a later date and council member Deb Armintor left the meeting prior to the budget and tax rate vote.

Armintor later said she left because “Democracy isn’t democracy if it happens in the dark,” and she didn’t think the public should be shut out of the council’s deliberations and vote on the budget and tax rate.

“When staff said they came up with a solution to tonight’s technical difficulties, I assumed that meant that the livestreaming failure was resolved,” Armintor said in a text message statement. “As soon as I found out from a constituent’s email that we were not livestreaming, I raised my hand to announce it, and more than one other council member seemed surprised, as I was, to hear it confirmed that that was indeed true. I immediately proposed that we postpone all posted items for the evening except urgently time-sensitive matters that could only be voted on tonight. I left because I wasn’t convinced that there was anything that fit that category.“

Council members earlier in the evening couldn’t come to a passing vote on a budget with either a property tax rate of 57 cents per $100 valuation — referred to as the wage inflation rate — or the no-new-revenue rate.

The adopted general fund revenue budget is just shy of $150 million, with a change that $500,000 would go to the sustainability fund rather than $1.2 million. The council plans to come back in March to look at that $700,000 difference again

Council members also adopted a $1.45 billion general fund expenditure budget.

The mask mandate approved on Aug. 12 remains in effect until Sept. 30. Mayor Gerard Hudpseth and council member Jesse Davis were the only dissenting votes on keeping the mandate, as they were in the last two votes for a mask mandate.

The topic that sparked the most conversation surrounded GoZone, the Denton County Transportation Authority’s on-demand ride service that launched Sept. 7 which allows residents to ride for 75 cents per ride during a six-month promotional period.

Riders schedule trips primarily through a mobile app, and drivers with contractor Via Transportation will pick them up using a fleet of up to 30 minivans.

Chris Watts, DCTA’s board chairman and Denton’s former mayor, gave council members the daily numbers, excluding weekends, for GoZone and Connect buses’ fixed routes since the on-demand service launched earlier this month.

Starting Sept. 7, when GoZone van rides launched, Connect bus ridership took a dive from 1,100 boardings per day at the beginning of the year, but since then ridership has remained steady at about 800 per day. Watts said they count one boarding as the time a person gets on. If that rider gets off and then gets on the bus again, they are counted for a second boarding.

DCTA has had about 600 boardings for GoZone in the last two days, data shows. The average wait time for a pickup is 11 minutes, the average walking distance from pickup is 126 feet and the average distance a rider walks from drop-off is 127 feet. Watts said he didn’t have the numbers for how long the average ride is.

“Because it’s been such a short time since we’ve launched … we’ve got as much data as we can, given that short time frame,” Watts said. “I’m encouraged that ridership … jumped all the way it did.”

He said they’ve heard quite a few college students are using it. While students can ride DCTA’s campus buses without paying fare, they do have to pay to use GoZone.

As of Tuesday, the plan is still for DCTA to suspend a majority of its bus routes on Dec. 6. Routes 1, 2, 4 and 6 in Denton as well as Routes 21 and 22 in Lewisville will be discontinued then. Routes 3 and 7 in Denton have been given a longer amount of time before the board reexamines their futures.

Council members showed interest in an interactive fountain — geared to be a splash playground — at a Rayzor Ranch property, 3230 Heritage Trail, to commemorate the Rayzor family, but preferred to get more information before moving forward.

Mayor Gerard Hudspeth expressed concern about funding a splash playground on the north side of town when the Southeast Denton community’s splash playground didn’t turn out how they expected it to be.

“The Southeast Denton community is the only one that has a splash pad currently and they are upset about the size of it, and so they feel like they’re disenfranchised, they were told it was going to be more grand than it is,” Hudpseth said. “So to then go fund something on the other side of town is … it’s just a terrible visual, in my experience.”

Interim City Manager Sara Hensley said the idea for another splash playground is wonderful, but added they should take care of their community members and beef up the Southeast Denton sprayground at Carl Gene Young Sr. Park.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.