After 20 months of public input and a few tense debates trying to nail down a 2014 bond program, the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a project list that will reduce spending on public art and focus primarily on streets, sidewalks and parks.
The $292 million bond program will go to the voters for their approval in the May 10 municipal elections.
Council members stressed that the projects will be paid for without increasing taxes; but they will add to 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 outstanding interest.
“The toughest thing was how do we fund all of the wants of our citizens, but I think we have an excellent balance,” said Mayor Betsy Price.
After a debate that went back and forth between council members for months, the council agreed on a one-time reduction in the public art funds, which have historically received 2 percent of the bond total.
This bond package will direct roughly 1.2 percent of the total to public art, using a formula that includes diverting funds from transportation bond money and cutting the fund from $5.84 million to $3.59 million.
That money, plus a $400,000 reduction in new playground equipment, adds $1.4 million for transportation grant matches, $950,000 for improvements at the McLeland Tennis Center, Rosemont Park and Victory Forest Park, and $350,000 for a levee at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.
Council members are calling this bond package one of the most vetted in the council’s history, after scheduling 17 district-specific meetings for residents to comment, three citywide meetings and multiple sessions for neighborhood associations and other interested groups. The city also set up a website to take comments on the proposed list of projects and had a survey specific to public art.
After the public input phase ended in November, the city staff came back to the council in December with a new list of proposed projects, including reducing urban villages from $9 million to $6 million, transit-oriented development from $7 million to $4.5 million and cutting money for the Rockwood Golf Course.
The staff also added projects, such as $1.26 million for bicycle infrastructure.
On Tuesday, the council approved changes to the public art process by dictating that the Fort Worth Art Commission will consist of three art professionals, two design professionals and four community representatives.
Changing the process came amid concerns from council members that the program has failed at times to serve residents — one example being the mural at the Westside Water Treatment Plant, which is closed to the public.
The proposition asks voters to specifically approve seven items on May 10. While council members discussed specific projects, the propositions do not list those projects, to give the city leeway.
For example, if the city receives a grant for one of the parks, the city will need the authority to redirect the bond money.
The projects are: