Fort Worth plans to speed up 2014 bond projects

07/17/2014 6:12 PM

07/17/2014 6:14 PM

City officials are catching flak for taking up to a decade to finish the 2004, 2007 and 2008 bond programs, so they have switched tactics for the 2014 bond to make sure it doesn’t happen again, even starting projects before they sell the bonds.

Mayor Betsy Price said the city deserves criticism since projects are still in progress from the 2004 bond.

“There is a lot of frustration over the delivery of the last two and three bond programs,” she said.

There is still $149 million from the 2004 and 2008 voter-approved bond programs and the 2007 critical capital needs program that have not yet been spent. But Price said she is more optimistic about the delivery of the five-year, $292 million bond program approved by voters in May, after the staff presented several ideas for speeding that process up at a capital improvements workshop Thursday.

“We will just have to continue to keep the pressure on them,” she said.

Officials plan to finance the projects upfront from the general fund balance and then sell bonds at the end of the year to reimburse the city for the costs of projects, which will save time and money, said Aaron Bovos, chief financial officer for the city.

“We will not have proceeds sitting in a bank, meaning we will not be paying debt on money we have not yet put in the ground,” Bovos told council members.

The city has already started a $5 million “fast start” program for fiscal 2014 for the needs that were deemed the highest priority.

They will also combine several projects into one larger deal for bidding and construction, said Doug Wiersig, director of transportation and public works, and try to shave time off projects with other management methods as well.

Fiscal 2015, when $54 million is budgeted, will truly kick off the new bond program. Fiscal 2016 will see the most money spent, with $83.5 million budgeted, before spending levels back off to $53.5 million in 2017, $55.2 million in 2018 and $36.9 million in 2019.

The city will sell its first bonds at the end of fiscal 2015, Bovos said, recouping the $5 million being spent in 2014 and the $54 million to be spent in 2015.

Councilman Jungus Jordan is “cautiously optimistic” the strategies will work. Residents in Jordan’s district were frustrated that the Chisholm Trail Community Center in southwest Fort Worth, funded in the 2004 bond program, didn’t open until March.

“I think the priorities as presented by the staff are good and I think the plan is very good,” Jordan said. “The proof in the pudding is if the plan is executed as put forth, and council will be keenly interested and watchful to ensure that happens.”

The bond plan was a hit with voters. The $219.74 million transportation and infrastructure portion passed with the highest margin, with 83.30 percent of the vote. The other six propositions, which include parks and libraries, also passed by a wide margin.

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