January 15, 2014

FW council not yet ready for bond vote

The gestation period continues for the $292 million Fort Worth bond plan scheduled to be submitted to voters in May.

The gestation period continues for the $292 million Fort Worth bond plan scheduled to be submitted to voters in May.

This is no rabbit (gestation in one month), nor is it an elephant (almost two years), but it’s getting to the point where it has gone on long enough. It’s time to get ready for the blessed event.

During the past year, City Council members have wrangled over how much money in the plan should be devoted to public art, taken recommendations from local residents through a series of 20 staff-led public meetings and a city-run website and discussed the results at a Dec. 11 workshop.

They were scheduled to vote on a final version of the plan Jan. 7. Now it looks like that won’t happen until Feb. 11.

The $292 million is a lot of money, but as is typical for bond elections there are more proposed projects than the budget will allow. From the beginning, the object has been to determine how much money could be available without raising the tax rate, then set priorities on which projects are most needed while staying under that cap.

Also from the beginning, the council members set street construction, improvements and expansion as the top priority.

On Tuesday, discussion shifted back to public art. A city ordinance specifies that 2 percent of all bond project money should be devoted to public art. That would be $5.84 million in the current plan.

Despite previous discussions that led to agreement on that figure, now the council members are talking about squeezing it down to $3.58 million.

The $2.26 million difference (plus a $400,000 reduction in planned expenditures on new playground equipment) would be used instead for transportation grant matches, improvements at McLeland Tennis Center, Rosemont Park and Victory Forest Park, and for a levee at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.

Council discussion at the Dec. 11 workshop was tense as members pushed for priorities in their districts. Tuesday’s funding swaps look like they were designed to smooth things over.

That’s fine. Council members surely know there will be pushback from public art supporters and must be prepared to deal with it.

But for goodness’ sake, it’s time to have this baby.

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