Impressive wins for bond elections in Fort Worth, Arlington

05/12/2014 5:24 PM

05/12/2014 5:25 PM

The sheer numbers made some voters nervous: $6.7 billion of bond debt on the ballot Saturday statewide, nearly $1 billion of it in Fort Worth and Arlington.

But voters in both Fort Worth and the Arlington school district responded strongly, trusting local leaders instead of outside critics and passing bond issues to invest wisely in both cities’ future.

Arlington leaders had the most at stake, and also took the biggest gamble.

To bolster a showpiece school district under stress from age and crowding, voters approved $663 million in bonds to build two new elementary schools and a $46 million Career and Technical Center, and add improvements at almost every elementary campus.

Arlington also will add a $32 million Fine Arts Center, a $25 million athletic complex and a $2.5 million facility devoted to agricultural science.

Hoping to lure middle-class families away from outlying subdivisions into Arlington’s handsome, long-established neighborhoods, city leaders told voters the election was essential to “our kids, our future.”

At a time when city and school bond elections are often challenged by outside PACs lobbying against increased taxpayer debt, the Arlington school board and 38-member capital needs committee summoned both the numbers and the bipartisan political clout to deliver victory in every precinct.

School board President Bowie Hogg and trustees have earned the voters’ confidence. Now they must carefully begin carrying out the plan.

In Fort Worth, voters overwhelmingly approved $290 million in bonds and also reapproved a half-cent “crime tax” that raises about $55 million a year for police equipment and crime-fighting programs.

The half-cent sales tax for crime-fighting deserved new scrutiny from voters, partly because council members now manage the money instead of a separate board and partly because the money now also helps pay for jail services and juvenile crime prevention programs.

But the crime tax turned out to be the most popular proposition on the ballot, winning in every precinct and carrying 83 percent of votes citywide.

From 68 to 82 percent of voters approved bond projects including a much-needed new far north Fort Worth library, parks and recreation centers citywide and a second animal control center, plus street improvements on overloaded outlying arterials such as Blue Mound Road or Risinger Road.

In south Fort Worth, the special election in the city’s politically volatile District 9 will require a runoff election.

Voters will return June 21 to choose between former zoning commission chair Ann Zadeh and attorney Ed Lasater. Early voting will begin June 9.

In Northeast Tarrant County, voters in north Keller provided the margin of victory to elect former City Council member Mark Mathews as the city’s new mayor over three-term Mayor Pat McGrail.

Two Mathews allies also ousted two council incumbents.

After an emotional bond election last year where an $8 million proposal failed by one vote out of more than 3,000 cast, Keller voters needed to find new leadership they can unite behind and support.

In school board elections, incumbent trustees in Crowley, Grapevine-Colleyville and Mansfield overwhelmingly won another term, winning strongly over newcomers supported by obscure PACs or Tea Party groups.

It was an election where voters followed those who could lead, not just be loud.

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