Fort Worth council members haggle over proposed bond package

Posted Saturday, Jun. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Project list Here are some major projects on the city staff’s recommended list for the May 2014 bond program: Como Community Center: $3.5 million, 50 percent seed for relocating and rebuilding aging center. Rockwood Golf Course: $2.2 million, 50 percent seed for rebuilding historic golf course. $89 million in new arterials, including a $12.1 million four-lane divided piece of Old Decatur Road/Marine Creek Parkway, and the $11 million completion of the six-lane North Beach Street between Loop 820 and Fossil Creek Boulevard. Playground replacements: $2.58 million to replace 16 playgrounds. Z Boaz Park dog park: $500,000 against $859,000 total cost of 10-acre park and parking. •  Read the full list at Source: City of Fort Worth

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The haggling is well underway for Fort Worth’s tightly competitive, $293 million 2014 bond package, and City Councilman Jungus Jordan’s price is going up.

Jordan, who represents the south Fort Worth District 6, told colleagues in January he needed $3 million for development of the new Chisholm Trail Community Park. This week, after the city staff moved it onto the recommended list and proposed $2 million in seed money, Jordan responded by saying he had to have $4 million.

“We don’t build half a swimming pool,” he reasoned, adding residents deserve “a usable park, not just the skeleton of a future park.”

Game on. The staff increased the size of the transportation-dominated bond package by $17 million this week, shoehorning in several parks and community center projects requested by City Council members. The list, headed by $206 million for arterial streets, neighborhood streets, bridges and other transportation projects, represents the last staff recommendations before a five-month community road show that begins in July and ends in November.

Mayor Betsy Price and council members want the public to weigh in on what it wants in the debt package, which will make up the city’s capital spending for the next five years. The $2 billion wish list of items not in the staff recommendations includes more roads, streets, and parks, community centers, libraries, and aquatics centers.

The council is scheduled to vote on the final list in December for a bond package that goes before voters next May.

“We don’t have a huge amount of bond capacity, so we’re going to have to all try to find some some common ground and compromises to benefit the ... entire city,” Price told council members Monday during a televised workshop. “It’s critical we get this right.”

Vigorous debate

As a result, council members continue to maneuver for position.

Councilman Sal Espino, who represents the old North Side, seized on Jordan’s remarks and maintained the $22.3 million for parks is too low. Council member Kelly Allen Gray, who represents the Southeast District 8, wants an East Lancaster Avenue library.

Broadly, council members want to ensure the city’s fastest growing sections – the far North and far South, and the oncoming far West Walsh Ranch development – get their share. Far North residents, in particular, have chafed for years at falling behind in city services.

“We’ve got 125,000 people north of the Loop that weren’t there 15 years ago, and outside of fire stations, we’ve built nothing up there,” said Councilman Danny Scarth, whose district includes part of the far North.

Council members are raising questions about the price tags for several staff recommendations, including a far North service center and money for streetscape improvements around commuter rail stations and in the city’s 16 urban villages - interior city areas zoned for dense, mass transit-friendly and pedestrian-friendly mixed-use development.

Then there is the vigorous debate shaping up over the bond program’s $5.9 million public art allocation – 2 percent of the total package, a figure set by the City Council in a 2003 ordinance and tied to specific projects in capital programs.

Jordan stepped up his months-long questioning of it, saying last week for the first time he’d rather use all of the money for more transportation and parks projects in the bond program. “I would prefer to eliminate it,” Jordan said of the public art piece. Price said she supported a review of the program and wants to hear from the public.

Relieving bottlenecks

Fort Worth isn’t raising taxes to cover the bond debt. Rather, the city is shifting part of its property tax rate to debt service from general fund operations, putting more pressure on the general fund. The council moved 1 cent of the 85.5-cent tax rate to debt service in 2012 and 1.5 cents this year, and will move 1 cent in each of the next two years. The shift will increase debt service to 22.1 percent of the city's tax rate from 18 percent.

The largest piece of the staff-recommended transportation package in the bond program is $88.6 million for new arterial streets. The recommended projects help fill in gaps and relieve bottlenecks, said Doug Wiersig, transportation and public works director.

In the far North, for example, a proposed piece of Timberland Boulevard would connect Timber Creek High School to Keller. In the far South, two proposed segments on McCart Avenue would connect the boulevard to Crowley.

Some projects fell short of the recommended list using the same criteria.

The Timberland project and a staff-recommended one on Park Vista Boulevard score big among far North residents, said Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance umbrella group.

But a needed segment of Keller Hicks Road from Park Vista east to the city limits didn’t make the recommended list. That’s because the city of Keller isn’t in position to expand its piece of the road to U.S. 377, Wiersig said.

“When we get a good look at it, we’ll probably have our priorities we’d like to see,” Fuller said of the staff list.

Part of the money on the staff’s recommended list is seed the city hopes will attract interest from potential private sector partners. A $1.5 million extension of the Trinity Trails system from Quanah Parker Park to Arlington’s River Legacy Park, for example, would be done in an already-forged partnership with the East Side developer Ken Newell.

“It makes that connection that we’ve been trying to get for years,” Richard Zavala, Fort Worth’s parks director, said.

The bond program would expand the reach of the city’s North Service Center, where construction is set to start next year at Loop 820 and Bonds Ranch Road. The already-funded first phase includes operating bases for trash and stormwater services and a public recycling dropoff center.

The second phase, recommended at $18 million in the 2014 package, includes bases for street, traffic, and parks services. The units providing that service are in North Fort Worth are dispatched from South Fort Worth, Mark Rauscher, senior capital programs manager, said.

“They’ll be able to provide much more efficient and timely service,” he said.

A separate staff-recommended item in the bond package could put a far North animal shelter at the service center.

Espino support the need for the service center, but has questioned the price. Randle Harwood, the city’s planning and development director, said Fort Worth’s James Street Service Center cost $25 million several years ago.

Urban village money

The staff also recommended a total $16 million for sidewalks, benches, trees and other streetscape improvements around Fort Worth’s eight TexRail stations and the urban villages, with the money meant to encourage private development.

The city would likely focus the $7 million pool for transit-oriented development on the stations with the greatest development potential, Harwood said.

“The ones by the Medical District, TCU/Berry, Beach, all show amazing prospects,” he said.

Similarly, the city would assign priority for the $9 million urban village pool according to the highest development prospects, Harwood said.

But Scarth feared much of the transit and urban village money could go to the same areas.

“It’s taking more money and centering it on areas that have not had a lot of population growth,” he said. “What are we really going to get for that?”

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808

Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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