FORT WORTH — Fort Worth is kicking off the education effort for the 2014 bond program Thursday night, with the first of nine public meetings.Residents will also vote on the renewal of the Crime Control and Prevention District tax, a half-cent sales tax first implemented in 1995 and renewable every five years. The fiscal 2014 budget for the crime district is $62.3 million. Jim Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor, said he has seen no resistance in the community to the bond or the tax. “There are always people who are opposed to general expenditures, and they will vote against any bond or any new tax they see coming down the pipe,” Riddlesperger said. “But the reality is and polls show that if the public officials make a good case for spending money … that many people will support them, particularly in local initiatives where they don’t see any partisan impact.”The meetings are just one of several strategies the city is using to reach potential voters as the $292 million bond package addressing primarily transportation and parks comes to residents in the May 10 election, said Michelle Gutt, director of communications and public engagement for Fort Worth. “We have tried to think of every possible way we could to get the word out, but we are also recognizing a limited budget, and so we looked at, What are the most cost-effective ways we can do the outreach?” Gutt said. New for this bond, the city has compiled a “meeting in a box” for neighborhood associations, business groups and any other interested individuals to request. The box contains informational DVDs and printed material on the bond proposals and the crime district tax. Gutt said the city will also use Twitter and Facebook to reach younger generations. “I think that has changed a lot since the last bond election, and it is another avenue where we can reach people,” she said. Past bond elections Both the 2004 and 2008 bond programs were approved by wide margins at the polls. The six propositions in the 2004 package, a total of $273.5 million, were passed by ratios of 3-to-1. In 2008, the $150 million bond addressing transportation needs passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Richard Zavala, parks and community services director, has been through three bond elections since he came to the city and said Fort Worth voters respond to the educational process. “If you put together a good package and show good stewardship … and you go out and engage the public in that process and educate them about what is there, and you do it under a conservative and responsible, very fiscally responsible, management strategy — voters are smart and I think that was reflected in how they responded to these [past] bond programs,” Zavala said. A 2007 critical capital needs program for $150 million was approved by the council without an election, and the money went toward projects like the Chisholm Trail Parkway. 2014 bond programThe 2014 bond will come to voters in seven propositions: transportation and infrastructure, $219.74 million; parks and community services, $31.44 million; libraries, $12.65 million; fire stations, $9.28 million; Municipal Court renovations, $1.53 million; facility-related expenses, $15.08 million; and animal care and control, $2.35 million.The council also agreed on a one-time reduction in the public art funds, which have received 2 percent of the bond total since the 2004 program. This bond package will direct roughly 1.2 percent of the total to public art. The bond proposal does not call for a tax rate increase, but it will raise the city’s debt. As of October, the city’s outstanding principal for property-tax-supported debt was $703.395 million, and the city owed $254.81 million in interest.Educational outreachIn more traditional education methods, the city has two hotlines set up for residents to call with questions. The first, 817-392-7621, is for questions about the bond program. The other, 817-392-4040, is for questions about the crime district tax renewal. The city also ran inserts in the Star-Telegram and La Estrella with information on the bond and the tax. That was the greatest cost to the city in the educational outreach, Gutt said, at about $12,000. Those inserts can also be found in Fort Worth libraries and community centers. In addition, a Spanish translator will be at all the scheduled public meetings. Residents who need the meetings translated into Spanish will receive headphones, similar to the setup at United Nations meetings, so that the translation does not disrupt the meeting, Gutt said. April 10 is the last day to register to vote in the local elections. Early voting is from April 28 to May 6.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst