Done bickering, Fort Worth council members now must back May bonds

For 25 years, Fort Worth voters have supported city bond elections.

But with statewide campaigns mounting against municipal and local debt, the next election can never be taken for granted.

That is the political lay of the land as the City Council considers a 2014 bond proposal. Basically, the council now has united behind a $292 million May 10 bond package, ending the divide over what’s in or out of the plan.

At a workshop Wednesday, council members first disagreed sharply over what should go before voters.

South-side council member Joel Burns went so far as to ask, “How do I pitch this? How do I tell them [residents] to go out and vote for this bond package that funds everything in areas outside of District 9 but has nothing but cuts for things inside District 9?”

Council members informally agreed to address Burns’ concerns in part.

They dedicated money to improve the half-century-old McLeland Tennis Center and Rosemont Park along with nearly $30 million in improvements to other long-neglected city parks.

But Burns’ words and other sniping comments among council members reflect the original depth of disagreement about this bond issue, whether the conflict is over cuts to urban village redevelopment, added money for bicycle lanes or the $5.8 million devoted to government-funded public art projects.

If council members expect to sell this proposal to voters — and there are strong arguments for it, particularly to meet needs in newer neighborhoods north and southwest of Loop 820 — they must remain united.

The plan is complete. The selling job now is up to Mayor Betsy Price and the eight City Council members.

Councilman Sal Espino was right when he called the bond plan the “most vetted bond proposal in the history of Fort Worth.”

Comments were collected from 20 public meetings and the website YourFortWorth.org.

But the online comments may have been weighted toward cybersavvy special-interest supporters.

For example, council members were told that commenters strongly support bond-funded public art and also a late-arriving $1.2 million proposal for more bicycle lanes, routes and signage.

After Councilman Danny Scarth expressed concern about lost traffic lanes, Councilman Jungus Jordan started to say bicycling is “near and dear” to Price’s heart.

“Let me just make a comment right here,” Price said, cutting him off in one of the most snappish moments of her tenure.

“Everybody thinks I’m married to this [bicycle infrastructure plan]. This is in response to the public comments. This is in response to the fact that the city has had a bicycle plan in place for five years, long before I was here.”

She’s completely right.

But the exchange reflected the division over parts of the bond proposal.

Overall, council members approved shifting $14.5 million based on public comments.

Much of the shifted money will go toward park and recreation improvements, including an extra $3 million combined toward a new Como Community Center and an expansion of the Handley-Meadowbrook Community Center.

An extra $1.8 million was added toward the now-$3.8 million Chisholm Trail Park in far southwest Fort Worth, and plans for a new far north Fort Worth sports complex were doubled to $3.6 million.

For those who love new-urbanism plans for urban villages and transit-related development, those two projects remain a major part of the bond proposal, with a combined $10.5 million, although that’s down from the original $16 million.

Council members took their time crafting a proposal they could all support.

Their next job is convincing voters.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram