Last week the Tarrant Regional Water District Board unanimously decided to ask voters in May to approve $250 million in bonds to pay for the $1.16 billion Panther Island project. The board said it needs the long-term loan to complete the project which will create new waterfront property by 2028.
It’s a bold request for a project with a price tag that’s nearly tripled since 2005, from $435 million to $1.16 billion price tag, as it was expanded to take in 1,800 acres on the city’s north and east side.
Yes, the project will transform Fort Worth with an 800-acre island with canals, an urban lake and 10,000 new residences.
But voters need to demand an explanation for the increasing cost. And the five-members of the board need to hit the chicken-dinner circuit to provide iron-clad assurance the bond sale won’t result in a higher taxes or a water rate increase.
Here’s what they’ve told us so far:
The price jumped over the $1 billion mark after the water district discovered it needed another $66 million to put in utilities in Panther Island. Then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said no to paying for another $95 million in costs. The district also needs to raise another $87 million to replace the natural gas revenues it planned to spend but lost when natural gas prices fell.
To pay for it all the board wants to sell bonds that would be paid off by the Panther Island property owners through a tax-increment financing district, or TIF. As the property becomes more valuable within the TIF boundaries, the tax revenue would be used to cover the loan. Water district officials say there is more than enough being generated by the TIF to pay for the $250 million in bonds as well as a $200 million loan the district has already made for the project.
District officials say if they don’t get the money, the project will slow down and become more expensive. No one wants to see that, but voters also need to know Panther Island isn’t becoming the ultimate money pit.
So board members, it’s time to start talking. Convince voters you’ve got the financing under control.