Cut in public art funding proposed for Fort Worth bond plan

01/14/2014 11:02 PM

01/14/2014 11:03 PM

The City Council has delayed voting on the contents of the 2014 bond package and heard another proposed change Tuesday that would reduce funding for public art.

An ordinance requires that 2 percent of the total amount of a bond package go to public art. The city staff is now recommending that only 1 percent of the bond funds directed to transportation projects go toward public art. For all other projects, 2 percent would still go to public art.

The change would reduce public art funds in the package from $5.84 million to $3.58 million, a $2.26 million cut.

That money, plus a $400,000 reduction in new playground equipment, would add $1.4 million for transportation grant matches, $950,000 for improvements at McLeland Tennis Center, Rosemont Park and Victory Forest Park, and $350,000 for a levee at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.

But council members were emphatic that the public art reduction should apply only to the current bond package and should remain aimed at boosting the transportation portion.

“The public said they were OK with the 2 percent, so if we are going to do something different, let’s talk about why we are doing it different, only for this bond package,” Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said.

Councilmen Sal Espino and Joel Burns said the city needs a long-term plan to address transportation needs in addition to the bond package.

“We are somewhat kicking the can down the road in our transportation and infrastructure needs with this bond package,” Burns said. “It gets us a little bit down the road but nowhere near the deficit that we have.

“It is a deficit that we have built in 20 years, and we are not going to dig ourselves out overnight. It is going to take a long time to catch back up, but we need to be having that conversation now.”

Still, Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman said, the public art component is a “two-part process” and the council needs to examine the policies on the selection of public art projects and how the money is spent.

A briefing on the review of the public art process is scheduled for Jan. 28.

The contents of the bond package were originally scheduled for a vote Jan. 7. The council is now scheduled to vote Feb. 11, Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis said.

Bond package components

The proposed $292 million bond package focuses primarily on transportation and infrastructure, but some council members and residents objected to some items, including the public art ordinance.

In a Dec. 11 workshop, city staffers presented a reordered list of projects after accounting for residents’ suggestions during the public input period.

The proposed changes, which included cuts to plans for urban villages and transit-oriented developments and TEX Rail, caused concern among some council members, especially Burns, whose TCU-area district has several designated urban villages. Burns recommended the improvements to the McLeland Tennis Center to make the bond package more equitable.

Urban villages, which are pedestrian-friendly mixed developments, were originally proposed to receive $9 million, but that would drop to $6 million. Transit-oriented developments decreased from $7 million to $4.5 million.

Staffers also proposed adding $1.26 million for bike infrastructure, such as new trails and bike lanes, because of comments from residents. Those items were not on the original list.

“No one is totally happy, but this is the maximum amount of debt that we can do, and there are some difficult trade-offs that have been made in it,” Mayor Betsy Price said.

The final bond proposal will go to the voters in May.

A deal with Habitat

In other business, the council unanimously voted to convey a new property to Habitat for Humanity after the city accidentally began design and construction on a cul-de-sac that was on Habitat-owned property.

The property in the 2100 block of May Street belonged to the city because of a tax foreclosure, but the property was sold to a private individual in May, who then sold it to Habitat.

However, the transportation and public works department started work on the cul-de-sac project, believing that the city still owned property. Habitat agreed to convey it to the city in exchange for a comparable property, which was valued Tuesday night at $8,500, plus $264.70 in post-judgment taxes.

Also, the council voted 5-4 to approve a new taxi service, United Cab Service, to operate 80 cabs.

The company’s application, filed in September 2012, was denied by the city’s review board but won approval in an appeal to a hearing officer. The officer, Municipal Judge Benita F. Harper, said that the company met all the city’s requirements and that it demonstrated a need for the additional taxi service.

The council had concerns about the need for more taxis, but Councilman Dennis Shingleton said the need would be market-driven and determined after the approval.

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