Council bird-dogs 2014 bond program

Improvements to Fort Worth streets, parks, libraries and other public facilities promised to voters in a $292 bond program approved in May 2014 have fallen significantly behind schedule, and costs threaten to be more than expected.

The part about costs is not a surprise. A more vibrant economy has driven up construction prices across the board.

The Fort Worth school district has run into similar problems with its 2013 bond program.

But the city’s project schedule problems are a big disappointment.

It’s also disappointing that city leaders didn’t build in contingency funding for some cost escalation. The school district’s plan included an extra 6.25 percent for construction and design contingencies, which has helped cushion the need for project cutbacks.

As they say, it’s no use crying over spilled milk.

The challenge, as City Council members pointed out after a staff briefing on the 2014 bond program Tuesday, is how to get back as close to on-track as possible.

And don’t hide problems.

“I’d rather know sooner than later where the shortfalls are in these programs and how we’re going to resolve those shortfalls,” said Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman.

It’s a sensitive topic at City Hall. The council learned only last month that some projects promised in several other bond elections never got done. Catching up will cost at least $1.7 million, possibly much more.

Figures presented to the council by Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa showed how slow the start of the 2014 bond program has been. The plan was to have $57.3 million worth of projects started by now, but the city is only about two-thirds of the way there.

Chapa blamed things like allocation of city staff time to “other high-priority initiatives” and wet weather from February through May.

Schedules will be escalated in coming years, with the goal being to complete the program by 2019.

Chapa also offered ideas for saving money.

As Zimmerman pointed out, the city has to make good on its promises or be honest about why not.