JPS bond election next year hangs in balance


John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth
John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Barring catastrophic events — the natural variety or man-made — elections are likely to be the story of the year in 2016.

Locally, most of the candidate contests probably will be decided in the March 1 primary, but the presidential race will carry the tension until November.

There also might be a crucial Tarrant County election on Nov. 3 ballot: a bond election to support crucial projects at publicly owned John Peter Smith Hospital.

Behind the scenes, at least, it’s none too soon for county and hospital officials to begin preparing for that bond election if it’s to have a real chance at success.

Tarrant County residents have already seen what it might entail.

This summer, hospital district officials rolled out an $809 million package of proposals, including construction of a 10-story patient tower and a five-story psychiatric hospital.

The proposal did not move forward to an election this year, and it might not next year, either. That depends on how well county commissioners and the hospital district board of managers prepare for it.

Or, this year’s ideas could be pared down for presentation to voters in 2016.

Officials must be united in clear resolve to support any package that’s put on the ballot. And since no public money can be spent to advocate for a ballot issue, a private group will have to come together to educate voters and conduct the campaign.

This year, the proposal met opposition from Tea Party groups raising questions about whether JPS could afford debt service on $809 million in bonds — or should even try to — without raising taxes.

Precinct 2 County Commissioner Andy Nguyen’s actions during the next few months will be crucial.

Nguyen has acknowledged that JPS facilities are antiquated and ill-suited to their current mission. Yet he has been reluctant to support moving forward.

“There are concerns,” he said. “We need to at least allow the opposition to be heard and open up the process. Let’s work together to come up with a solution.”

In August, Nguyen named Arlington attorney Warren Norred to represent him on the hospital district board.

That means Nguyen has every advantage he needs help shape a successful bond package to meet whatever he sees as the real needs at JPS, to “work together to come up with a solution.”

He should be a leader in that effort.