Voters head to the polls May 5 to decide whether the city should enter into its largest-ever bond program — $399.5 million — that includes $261.6 million toward fixing existing streets and building new ones.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the projects in the bond program will lead to improving quality-of-life issues, including addressing some public safety concerns by adding a new police station and a fire station. The project lists were well-vetted by the community at more than 40 meetings, she said.
"It's critical in a high-growth city like ours that we pass bonds to keep up with needs," Price said. "I'm optimistic it will pass and at pretty high percentages."
Fort Worth voters have approved all seven of the bond packages presented since 1986. Historically, bond elections bring out the lowest number of voters. In 2014, only 3 percent of the city's 364,284 voters cast ballots. The city now has about 423,200 registered voters.
If it passes, some of the projects will begin this year, including the planned animal shelter in north Fort Worth, said Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa.
Projects in the bond program will be carried out over a five-year time frame, but it will take about 20 years to pay off the debt, the city said. The projects were selected from a $1.6 billion wish list.
Early voting begins Monday and ends May 1.
A political action committee led by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, called Our Community Our Future, was created to raise $400,000 to promote the city's bond election as well as the $250 million bond proposition for the Tarrant Regional Water District. The water district says it needs the money to complete work on the massive Panther Island flood control and economic development project downtown.
Chamber President Bill Thornton said voters will support the city's bond program because the propositions address needed infrastructure improvements.
"The future of our community is what we make it," Thornton said. "These two bond packages are a win-win for our neighborhoods, local economy and local quality of life."
The city doesn't plan to raise property tax rates to support the bond debt. Of the city's 80.5 cents tax rate, 16.35 cents is used to retire debt.
This city's bond package is divided into six propositions. Voters will cast a vote for or against each proposition. The projects are distributed across all council districts. A list of proposed bond projects was brought to the community for input several months ago. The city is finishing up a second round of presentations on the final project list.
In addition to streets, it's divided by categories:
▪ $84.2 million in park and recreation improvements.
▪ $9.8 million for library improvements.
▪ $11.9 for fire safety improvements.
▪ $13.7 million for a new animal care center in north Fort Worth.
▪ $18 million for police facility improvements.
Under the streets proposal, money is planned for improvements at a dozen intersections, adding and upgrading traffic signals in nine locations and adding several roundabouts, particularly in north Fort Worth, to improve traffic flow on congested streets.
'A solid program'
In the park and recreation proposition, $28.8 million will be spent to improve 19 neighborhood and community parks, athletic fields and the Trinity Trails. Another $27.7 million will be spent on building the new Northwest Community Center and Diamond Hill Community Center, as well as renovating the Northside and Sycamore community centers. Another $7.7 million will be spent to build a clubhouse at the rebuilt city-owned Rockwood golf course, and $4.5 million will be spent to buy more park land.
A new library is planned in far southwest Fort Worth, and two fire stations and one police station are in the works. Just under $5.3 million will be set aside for the city's public art program, with those projects tied to bond projects.
"The 2018 bond program is a solid program," said City Manager David Cooke. "We've been working on it for two years and with the public for more than a year."
The City Council on April 10 approved spending $270,742 to hold the election.
Fort Worth is not yet done spending money approved in the $292 million 2014 bond package. By the end of this year, the city will have spent $207 million on projects and will issue the remaining $84.7 million in 2019.
The city is already projecting its debt capacity can accommodate a $514.3 million bond program in 2022.