$292 million Fort Worth bond package cruises to victory

05/10/2014 7:26 PM

11/12/2014 5:14 PM

Voters in Saturday’s election overwhelmingly approved a $292 million city bond program that focuses primarily on streets but also includes money for parks, community centers and libraries.

The $219.74 million transportation and infrastructure portion of the bond passed with the highest margin, at 83.30 percent of the vote, but the other six propositions also passed, according to complete but unofficial returns.

At the same time, 84.65 percent of voters reauthorized a half-cent sales tax for the Fort Worth Crime Control and Prevention District that is credited with dropping the crime rate by more than 40 percent since it was first approved in 1995.

“I think that the percentages are good, and I think it is an indication that we have vetted this election thoroughly and people are very pleased with it,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said Saturday night.

The City Council approved the bond package in February, calling it the most vetted in council history. It is the first bond election since a $150 million package was approved in 2008.

Council members also stressed that the projects will be paid for without a tax increase but 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 council spent 20 months studying the city’s needs before deciding what to submit to voters. The city also held 17 district-specific meetings, three citywide meetings, and multiple sessions for neighborhood associations so residents could comment and suggest changes.

The ballot proposals were:

• Transportation and infrastructure, funded at $219.74 million, passed with 83.30 percent of the vote.
• Parks and community services, funded at $31.44 million, passed with 78.43 percent of the vote.
• Libraries, funded at $12.65 million, passed with 78.07 percent of the vote.
• Fire stations, funded at $9.28 million, passed with 82.26 percent of the vote.
• Municipal courts, funded at $1.53 million, passed with 67.83 percent of the vote.
• Facility-related expenses, funded at $15.08 million, passed with 68.21 percent of the vote.
• Animal Care and Control, funded at $2.35 million, passed with 77.76 percent of the vote.

Though all of the propositions had high approval, Price said she had some concern that municipal courts and facility-related expenses were at least 10 percentage points lower than the other propositions.

“Out of seven propositions, if two of them are 10 points off of the others, if that holds, I would think it means the citizens have a little dissatisfaction there and we will have to see what that is about,” Price said after early voting.

Specifically, the projects include improvements to Chisholm Trail, Rosemont and Z Boaz parks, plans for new community centers, new city facilities in north Fort Worth, an east-side library and an expansion of the Silcox Animal Care and Control facility.

Cutting art funding

Before establishing the bond program, the city also set up a website to take comments on the proposed projects, with many residents asking for bicycle infrastructure. Fort Worth also had a survey specific to the public art issue.

The council made several changes, adding $1.26 million for bicycle trail improvements.

But it also made a one-time reduction in public art projects, which have historically received 2 percent of the bond total. Instead of getting about $5.84 million, the program will receive $3.59 million.

The public art program has been back in the news lately after the cost of the Tabachin Ribbon, a 13-foot-diameter bright yellow metal sculpture donated by Mexican artist Yvonne Domenge, more than doubled.

In October 2012, the council approved spending $60,000 to move, store and install the sculpture, valued at $150,000. But that has increased to $137,448 because of increased installation, transportation and storage costs.

Last week, the council reluctantly approved the money needed to complete the project. The twisted-metal artwork will be placed at Municipal Court Plaza downtown, across from City Hall.

Crime control

Police Chief Jeff Halstead has said the Crime Control and Prevention District is a key reason that Fort Worth’s crime rate has dropped in the past 19 years.

Since then, the tax has brought in $716 million in crime-fighting money, which has been used to buy patrol cars, fund the Citizens on Patrol volunteers, build the new training facility and fund jail services.

Now, with the $60-million-a-year crime prevention budget, Fort Worth is one of the safer cities in the United States, and Halstead expects that to continue with the renewal of the crime tax.

By state law, the tax has to go before voters for renewal every five years.

Halstead said he was breathing a “sigh of relief” for the overwhelming support of the renewal.

“I think the most reassuring message is that the citizens truly support the program and our relationship and now the goal is going to be to invest stronger in the community policing program,” he said.

Halstead said he wants to use the money in the next five years to focus on fighting cybercrime, a nationally growing trend; increasing training for school administrators and officers; and reinvesting in Code Blue, which has had a drop in volunteers.

The crime tax did have some opposition. Some Code Blue members and others are frustrated with the City Council for taking over the citizen crime prevention board in 2010.

That was necessary, officials said, after the Legislature enabled crime control districts to tax residents on utilities without a popular vote or approval by city councils.

After a group of Code Blue captains demanded that the council change how the crime control district is run in a November meeting, the city created a Code Blue advisory committee that will offer input.

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