The city’s pitch is simple: A proposed $560 million bond will make a positive impact on Fort Worth without impacting residents’ tax rates.
City staff will visit community centers across Fort Worth over the next month to answer residents’ questions about the proposed bond. It’s a process that is similar to other recent bond elections, like Fort Worth ISD’s.
When residents go to the polls May 7, they will vote on five propositions:
- Proposition A asks for $369.2 million for streets and transportation infrastructure.
- Proposition B asks for $123.9 million for park and recreation improvements.
- Proposition C asks for $12.5 million for public library improvements.
- Proposition D asks for $39.3 million for police and fire facilities.
- Proposition E asks for $15 million for land purchases to preserve natural space.
Fort Worth ISD recently had a contentious election that saw voters narrowly approve part of a $1.5 billion package with critics saying the price tag was too high. Three smaller bond propositions failed that would have funded fine arts and athletic facilities. The largest part of the school bond, worth $1.2 billion, passed by 57 votes. So far, the city bond has seen little widespread pushback from residents opposed to approving the debt increase.
City staff do not expect to increase the property tax rate. However, rising property appraisals mean Fort Worth residents likely will see higher tax bills regardless of the bond election. The city set its tax rate at 73.25 cents per $100 of valuation. The city pays its debt, which includes bonds and tax notes, with a debt service tax rate of 14.75 cents per $100. The rest of the tax revenue is used for daily operations and maintenance.
Technically, the pitch of no new taxes doesn’t tell the whole story. The city also could elect to lower taxes by retiring its existing debt rather than replacing it with new projects. However, most government leaders advocate for bond elections as the right path for a growing city to keep up with pressing needs.
Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by cities typically used to finance capital improvements like facilities and roads. Fort Worth received an average bond rating of AA from credit rating agencies in 2021, the level just below prime. Bond ratings, also known as credit ratings, are assessments of municipal bonds’ credit risk at a particular point in time. Ratings can change over time.
If you go:
6-8 p.m. March 31, at Como Community Center, 4660 Horne St.
6-8 p.m. April 4, Worth Heights Community Center, 3551 New York Ave.
6-8 p.m. April 7, Northwest Library, 6228 Crystal Lake Drive
6-8 p.m. April 11, East Regional Library, 6301 Bridge St.
6-8 p.m. April 20, McDonald YMCA, 2701 Moresby St.
10 a.m.-noon April 23, Handley Meadowbrook Community Center, 6201 Beaty St.
6-8 p.m. April 25, Rockwood Park Golf Clubhouse, 1851 Jacksboro Highway.
When the city plans its bond program, it expects the tax rate to stay constant. If the bond ends up costing more or less than projected, Fort Worth can shift money away from operations to debt service and vice versa.
“The goal is to keep the debt service constant,” said Roger Venables, chair of the 2022 Bond Program Prioritization Committee. “In fact, over the years, the overall tax rate has declined.”
The city will leverage $71.7 million for road construction and railroad crossings from the Tarrant County transportation bond passed in November. Parks and recreation projects will receive $13.2 million in partnership funds with outside organizations like the North Texas Council of Governments and nonprofit Streams and Valleys.
The city starts the process of selecting projects based on what their departments recommend. City departments asked for $1.3 billion in projects.
“Once we get that topline dollar amount, the prioritization committee is formed,” Venables said.
The committee takes the projects and evaluates them based on 10 criteria. Once the city staff forms a final list, they take it out to the community with council members, who provide input. In February, the Fort Worth City Council approved an ordinance calling for an election on the final bond program.
City staff updated its approach to the 2022 bond compared to previous bond programs based on the recommendations of the Race and Culture Task Force. The bond was formed with equity in mind, Venables said.
“We added equity to the existing list of criteria that we use to prioritize projects across the spectrum of all project types,” Venables said. “We’re trying to address service deficiencies.”
2022 bond program goals:
- Maintain and improve existing infrastructure and address equity.
- Improve mobility and city services (police, fire) in growth areas.
- Promote active transportation and recreational corridors.
- Allow for flexibility and partnership opportunities.
- Achieve balance and fiscal responsibility.
Revisions were made to the bond after public input, including an additional $45.5 million for roads. The changes also devoted an extra $8.1 million to parks and recreation improvements including expanding plans for Forest Park Pool and Stop Six Aquatic facilities. The city also increased funding for the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.
Roads and transportation
Most proposed funds are focused on transportation, specifically road construction and improvements. Roads were the single biggest complaint heard by the city from residents during public input meetings that took place during summer 2021. In Fort Worth’s community survey conducted last year, 27% of residents were satisfied with the city’s delivery on roadway projects – the least satisfied they were with any city service.
When the city formed its bond program, the construction and restoration of roads were made a top priority. Specifically, staff are looking to make improvements to roads in minority-majority and super minority-majority areas, Venables said.
A minority-majority area is a census block with a minority population of 50% or greater and a super minority-majority area is a census block with a minority population of 75% or greater. The prioritization committee also considered whether the project would improve racial and cultural disparities in the city as a whole.
Most of the money devoted to transportation could be used to build major roads and improve existing neighborhood streets. The city plans to devote $5 million to its Vision Zero Program, which aims to reduce traffic fatalities to zero. The money is focused on the top 10 most dangerous roads in Fort Worth.
A consultant will work with the city’s transportation and public works department to consider ways to reduce fatalities.
What are the top 10 most dangerous roads for drivers in Fort Worth?
1) Miller Avenue
2) South Riverside Drive
3) Northeast 28th Street
4) University Drive
5) McCart Avenue from Park Hill Drive to West Berry Street
6) McCart Avenue from Sycamore School Road to Columbus Trail
7) Main Street
8) Henderson Street
9) Altamesa Boulevard
10) SW Loop 820
Parks and recreation
Proposition B, Parks and Recreation, will fund community centers and pools, park improvements and development and other environmental improvements on trails and ponds across the city.
The city will pull funds from park dedication fees and gas well revenue. Both of those funds are required to be used to develop city parks. The city is obligated by contract to make infrastructure improvements to the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens and the Fort Worth Zoo.
Two of the most expensive projects are the design and construction of two community centers – one in Stop Six and the other in District 9 near downtown.
The new 28,000-square-foot community center will replace the existing Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Stop Six. The center will include meeting rooms and a gym but it will also have a space for a library and social services.
“A one-stop-shop, if you will, for the community,” Venables said.
The Fire Station Community Center was in the running to be included in the city’s 2018 bond, but lost out to Diamond Hill Community Center. The community center will occupy a historic 1920s fire station and include a gym and related programming.
The city will add an additional aquatic facility in Stop Six with a lap pool alongside a water play area with a slide. The pool will be alongside the new proposed Stop Six Hub Community Center.
After public input, the city updated its plan for the Forest Park Pool replacement. It now includes an eight lane 50-meter lap pool and a water play area with a large slide.
Heritage and Paddock parks are fenced off and inaccessible to the public. The parks, which sit near downtown, could receive $13.5 million for design and construction including street improvements for accessibility and safety.
The city also plans to invest millions into existing parks to help them align with the city’s park master plan, which includes updated amenities like security lighting, trails and shelters.
The city plans to use $5.5 million to make improvements to trails city-wide. The initial investment will be paired with grant funding to extend the money, Venables said.
The city will receive two new fire stations, one new police patrol station and a library in northwest Fort Worth.
Additional city services in north Fort Worth are desperately needed, according to District 4 Councilman Cary Moon.
“You’re dealing with an area the size of Denton and Waco combined,” Moon said. “It took us eight years after redistricting to get a police station in the far north… 10 years to get a second library for 270,000 people.”
The library will be placed near Avondale-Haslet Road and Sendera Ranch Blvd. It is a high- growth area, Venables said, with about 20,000 people in a three-mile radius around the proposed 18,000 square-foot library.
Both fire station replacements, one in northeast Fort Worth and one in southwest Fort Worth, will improve existing stations. Station No. 37 has had a temporary structure since the 1990s and Station No. 16 will need to be completely demolished, Venables said.
The city already owns the land to be used for the Northwest patrol division, which will be placed in District 2 just north of Loop 820. The northwest patrol division pays $151,000 in rent yearly.
The city plans to leverage $15 million to purchase undeveloped land and preserve it to guard against future development. The city hasn’t finalized its plans, but is expected to approve a 137-page strategy report at an upcoming council meeting.
Fort Worth funds projects through a bond every four years, Venables said, but the city is constantly adding projects to its capital improvement fund. As the city holds public input meetings, they can’t make changes to the city’s bond program.
It will be up to voters to vote yes or no on the five propositions, Venables said. The comments residents make at public meetings will be used for future decision-making.
“We’re listening to the community all the time, through boards, commissions, or City Council input,” Venables said. “There might be carry-over projects that didn’t quite make the list of the previous bond and might get rolled over into the next bond program.”
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.