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Tarrant County commissioners reallocate money from housing and education to law enforcement initiatives

Tarrant County Judge Tim O'Hare called the move a "compromise," though dozens of speakers objected.

FORT WORTH, Texas — The Tarrant County Commissioners' Court Tuesday reallocated millions initially set aside for housing and education to a law enforcement project and a private prison contract. 

More than 30 people objected to the move during public testimony, though Tarrant County Judge Tim O'Hare called the vote a "compromise."

"This is a good investment in law and order and public safety," O'Hare said.

Commissioners approved three affordable housing projects Tuesday, but diverted nearly $15 million initially earmarked for further development. Tarrant County Homeless Coalition Executive Director Lauren King estimates that money could've paid for construction on another 75 to 100 units. 

"Homelessness is at an all-time high in our community," King told WFAA. "This is not the direction we were hoping the court would go."

The money came from the federal government with strings attached, including strict deadlines for planning and spending. Commissioners worried the remaining allocation would expire before they found more developers interested in doing the work. 

"The fact we don't have more developers planning affordable housing is regrettable, but it is what it is," Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said. "This is the process."

The county has until December 2024 to identify projects for funding with federal aid. The money must be spent by 2026. 

"We've been able to hit approximately two-thirds of our budgeted target," Brooks continued. "That's a heck of an improvement for homeless people, the working poor, and those who need housing units but cannot afford them."

King argues more developers might come forward, given more time. She also suggested the cash could instead be used for rental assistance. 

"People may argue we'll never have enough money to address the affordable housing crisis," she said. "However, we've got to start, we've got to commit, and we've got to build."

Other speakers objected to a similar adjustment, which reduced county funding by nearly $10 million for expansion of Child Care Associates' Early Head Start education program. The program expansion is now partially funded, instead of fully funded. 

Money clawed back in each move will allow the county to move some inmates to a privately-run prison in Garza County. Staff told the court that Tarrant County needed to clear out at least one pod at the jail so workers can replace its aging HVAC system. 

The remaining money will help pay for a new training center for the sheriff's office, a project that's not yet been planned or formally approved by commissioners. 

O'Hare noted that Tarrant County is still investing more money in affordable housing and early childhood education than it would have without the federal aid, despite the budget adjustments.

Commissioners approved the reallocation of funds along party lines.

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