Parks or roads? Can Fort Worth bonds do both?

Posted Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Guns or butter is the classic juxtaposition to illustrate economic tradeoffs -- which is more important to buy when money is limited?

In Fort Worth, the balancing isn't a cold textbook calculation. It's loaded with emotion and tugged by compelling arguments and competing pressures.

As City Council members plan for a bond election projected for May 2014, the capital improvement needs far exceed the anticipated size of the package: $276 million.

At this point, the split would send 72 percent of the money to transportation projects and28 percent to parks/community services. But that leaves almost $87 million on the parks department's five-year wish list. Many of those projects ought to move not just to the top of the "someday" list but into the bond package that goes to voters. It will require that council members make difficult but necessary choices.

How can the council in good conscience not replace the heavily used but heavily deteriorated Como Community Center that serves all ages and anchors a community on the west side? City staff estimates the cost at $7 million.

But is the tradeoff delaying a community center in rapidly growing far north Fort Worth, also estimated to cost $7 million?

Should the council try to do more with parks across all sectors of town by decreasing the percentage of bond funds going to roads? How's that going to play with the public?

It could be more responsible to delay costlier projects in some neighborhoods but include smaller-scale amenities for those areas for now.

The council also should be careful about asking voters to approve $5.5 million for unspecified public arts projects in light of other needs. Notwithstanding criticism the council has received during the past year over decreased arts funding in the general budget, bond packages should be as specific as possible, and this time around, that amount might be an unwise luxury.

Public hearings are expected in the summer and fall before the council votes on a package in December. Residents can tip the balance by making sure council members understand what they consider essential, what they're willing put off and what ideas they have for funding projects.

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