Should the City of Fort Worth be taking out a $399.5 million loan in the form of bonds when it has a $1.6 billion pension deficit that could require greater taxpayer bailout and higher payroll contributions from city workers?
That’s one of the questions this Editorial Board put before City Manager David Cooke as it considered whether to support six separate city bond issues on the May 5 ballot.
Early voting begins Monday on whether to approve spending for improvements in streets, parks, libraries, animal services and facilities for police and fire.
Cooke, in addition to other civic leaders, convinced us the projects being placed before voters are needed as the city adds up to 25,000 new residents every year.
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It is unfortunate that Fort Worth’s credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s last year because of the outstanding pension fund deficit. That means the city would likely pay a higher interest rate to borrow this money.
But bonding agencies also look at a city’s potential revenue growth when they determine interest rates and financial viability. And we believe Fort Worth’s ability to attract investment and economic development depends on its ability to maintain quality public services.
That’s why this editorial board recommends voter approval of all six Fort Worth bond propositions. We do, however, have one objection we want the city to correct for the next bond election. In the interest of transparency we believe the $5.4 million for public art funding should have been a separate proposal to be voted up or down, and not sprinkled among the other projects.
Here’s how the money would be spent:
Proposition A: Streets & Mobility Improvements — $261,630,080 1% goes to public art
A majority of the bond budget would be used to improve safety and add capacity on streets, hike/bike paths and corridors throughout the city. The money would also be used to replace or maintain bridges, railroad crossings, street lights and traffic signals. Check out this search-able map to see what’s proposed for your neighborhood.
Proposition B: Parks & Recreation Improvements — $84,180,600 2% goes to public art
Parks projects, comprise 21% of proposed bond projects. The biggest chunk would go to community centers; to maintain parks; for eight new neighborhood parks; and to complete six community parks. There’s funding for trails, utilities at the zoo, and $7.7 million to replace an aging clubhouse at the Rockwood Park Golf Course. While we don’t oppose the clubhouse we think the city should look more deeply into funding golf courses since fewer Fort Worth residents are playing and financially supporting them.
Proposition C: Public Library Improvements — $9,868,500 2% goes to public art
Two percent of the bonds would build a library in the far southwest part of the city to serve a growing population near Chisolm Trail Parkway.
Proposition D: Fire Safety Improvements — $11,975,820 2% goes to public art
A new fire station will serve the growing north side and a fire station on the southwest side will be replaced.
Proposition E: Animal Care & Shelter Facility — $13,770,000 2% goes to public art
The city’s current Animal Care and Control Shelter in the southeast is at capacity. Officials say it can take two hours for employees at that site to respond to calls in other parts of the city. Design for a new animal center on the north side at Hillshire and Highway 287 will be complete and construction underway by the end of the year with the passage of this bond.
Proposition F: Police Facility Improvements — $18,075,000 2% goes to public art
Five percent of the bond money would be used to build a police operations center in the fast growing southern part of the city.
You can also make your vote count in these elections
Approval would allow the water district to borrow $250 million for construction of the Trinity River Vision project and Panther Island in Fort Worth. We recommend the bond though we have concerns about the escalating cost of the project.
A $199 million bond would pay for two new elementaries and upgrade the aging 1970s-era junior highs. It would add $164 a year to property taxes for the average home without a senior exemption.
Two qualified candidates are running to succeed Charlie Parker who is not seeking reelection. We appreciate Helen Moise’s knowledge and long-time civic involvement. We recommend Barbara Odom-Wesley because we believe she would provide a much needed voice for neighborhoods in a city where economic development is a high priority.