The City Council set sail for a May 2014 bond election Wednesday, and the package before voters is expected to rise to $276 million from previous estimates, city officials said.
Council members told the staff to plan for the 2014 date during a workshop, where they also debated whether to allocate 2 percent of the bond package to public art expenditures, as they have in recent bond programs.
Councilman Jungus Jordan, who has said he believes 2 percent is too much, floated the idea of putting the public art proposition separately before voters.
"One, let the citizens vote on it, and two, let’s do something big" with the money, if ultimately allocated to public art, Jordan said.
That quickly bogged down in debate over whether such a proposition would be specific enough under the law, and Mayor Betsy Price said the city needed more legal advice.
"My thinking is the 2 percent may be more than we can do in an election like this," Price said after the meeting, referring to the city’s needs. She said she liked the idea of a significant art project, and Mayor Pro Tem W.B. "Zim" Zimmerman’s idea to promote local artists..
The city staff said the available pot of money would be $276 million, up from earlier estimates of $242 million. The debt would be paid off by part of the city’s property tax rate, and a better outlook on property values and stronger interest rate assumptions led to the increase in estimated debt capacity, said Horatio Porter, the city’s budget officer.
The staff is now working from a wish list of $1.8 billion in proposed projects, and Price asked council members to help winnow the list, discussing it with constituents and adding other projects they want considered.
Under a timetable, the staff will develop specific descriptions of proposed projects and continue updating borrowing capacity numbers this winter and Spring; refine the project list by June; and conduct public meetings in the late summer and fall. The City Council would approve the final project list in December.
The final bond package is expected to be dominated by roads, neighborhood streets and other infrastructure. The big list also includes sidewalks, swimming pools, community centers, playgrounds, and library and fire station projects.
Contenders for the bond program, according to a staff report Wednesday, include $196.8 million in citywide infrastructure; fire stations in south Fort Worth and the far West Side; municipal complex, service center, and animal shelter in the far North; money to help build a medical wing at the Chuck Silcox animal shelter, which the city has been seeking private donations for; 40 playground projects citywide; Heritage Park redevelopment; and a library renovation in southeast Fort Worth.
Councilman Dennis Shingleton, whose district includes the Cultural District, asked for improvements to Montgomery Street to be added to the wish list, saying the street should frame the entrance to the district. "We can do better than that as a city," he said, referring to the way the street feels now.
Price asked whether projected expenses for road and street projects included costs for bike lanes, where planned. The staff said yes. "That’s not a be-all, end-all, but there’s a lot of people interested in it," she said.
The staff recommended the May 2014 date, saying it would give the city time to exhaust money remaining from capital programs dating to the 2004 bond election, and give the Fort Worth schools room to run their own bond election this November.
Schools officials have indicated to the city "a 70 percent chance they’re likely to have a bond election in November," Porter told the council.
Council members, who have been reluctant to call another bond election while the city is still spending voter-approved money from previous elections, pressed for staff assurances the next bond program won’t run into the same delays. The staff has streamlined processes and brought in an outside firm to help manage projects to accelerate the spending.
"Let’s say we close the bond package at $276 million (to be committed) over five years," Shingleton said. "Can we spend that?’
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter