Nine years after its last bond election and another not in sight, the city is still finding money to keep up an aggressive street improvement campaign.The city broke ground in June on the widening of East Broad Street from Holland Road to Day Miar Road, one of the two remaining project from the 2004 bond program of $32.5 million, which included nearly $25 million for street work.That project and the widening of a section of West Broad Street, which started a year ago, were funded in 2009, the final year of the five-year bond program.But since then, the city has borrowed $10.3 million for additional street projects – despite budget cuts during a recessionary economy -- by issuing certificates of obligation, a type of borrowing similar to issuing bonds but that don’t require a public election.Cities typically justify it as a means of quickly taking care of their most pressing needs.“When you start looking at streets, it’s pay now or pay later,” said City Manager Clayton Chandler. “Throughout the bad part of the economy, we tried to … take care of the heartbeat items of the community. And having good roads to drive on is one of them.”The council in February rejected plans for a May bond election – nine years after the last one -- citing an uncertain economy and tepid public response in surveys. The bond program would have cost $35 million and would have included about $18 million for streets, and it would have required a property tax rate increase.But the council followed up May 28, approving the sale later this year of $2.77 in certificates of obligation for several projects in the scrapped bond program. Not all were for streets -- the council also allotted funds to design a police tactical training center and an expansion of the animal control center, and to build the expansion of the overcrowded police dispatch center.On Monday, the council awarded a contract for improvements at the intersection of East Broad Street and Miller Road, which will cost $360,000 in certificates of obligation.City engineer Bart VanAmburgh said city street improvements have continued smoothly through the recession.“It certainly didn’t hinder our ability to fund the bond program,” VanAmburgh said. “We’ve had the bonding capacity to continue funding for road projects without proposing any tax increase.”Since 2010, Mansfield has been issuing certificates of obligation once a year, in the late fall, mostly for projects to relieve congested roads and improve safety, VanAmburgh said.Neighborhood roads are a lower priority. “Those tend to be a little more personal in nature, and serve smaller areas,” he said. “So we would generally put those out to the voters.”The many residential road projects in the 2004 program have been completed, VanAmburgh said.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann