Fort Worth revalues bond package, emphasizes transparency

A. Lee Graham

Some folks don’t know I&S from M&O, but that’s fine with Fort Worth officials; they say questioning such matters indicates a public wanting better understanding of budgetary operations. “I just feel really good about this public process,” said City Manager Tom Higgins, discussing steps leading to the city’s next bond election. Speaking at the pre-council portion of the July 16 regular City Council meeting, Higgins called the first of 19 public meetings on the subject a success. From interest and sinking (I&S) tax rates and maintenance and operations (M&O) issues, folks have asked specifics about city financing. Residents packed the Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods on July 13 to learn more about a May 2014 bond election, whose total capacity recently dropped from $296 million to $292 million as the city shifted $4 million to a summer debt sale. “We pulled that out of the CO [certificates of obligation, or bond] sale, which frees $4.4 million in capacity,” said Jay Chapa, the city’s interim director of financial management services. When the council reviewed bond options at a June capital planning workshop, that $4.4 million was expected to reimburse the city’s solid waste fund for purchasing property for a North Service Center, which would house transportation and public works, equipment services and parks employees in North Fort Worth. When the city bought the property almost two years ago, officials intended to issue debt for pay for the transaction, but planners subsequently learned that the project was not eligible for debt. So the $4.4 million sum was pulled from the bond sale. With $296 million in available funds, the city is grappling with filling many needs with limited dollars. Among several staff-recommended projects are a new $4.5 million fire station in Councilman Jungus Jordan’s District 6 that would include $4.3 million from bond funding; and a fourth-floor municipal courtroom expansion in downtown, a $1.1 million endeavor that would be fully bond funded. Other bond-funded projects would include a Walsh Ranch fire station at $4.6 million and $2.2 million for a Rockwood Golf Course renovation. After championing a public library along East Lancaster Avenue, District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray watched the project placed on the bond wish list. At pre-council, Chapa said $1.8 million taken from funding planned for District 8 transportation projects, could pay for acquiring and upgrading an existing building. Thanks to what Mayor Betsy Price called a bond planning process of unprecedented transparency, residents can monitor meeting schedules and read project synopses on, a newly launched website encouraging resident comment on municipal matters. But some council members questioned whether the website can seem to play favorites. They said that some residents have reported difficulty in leaving comments critical of bond projects. “I know we’re doing the road show now and we’re doing the website … but some feedback that some of our constituents left said they couldn’t say no [to projects], …that it was slanted and biased toward affirmative comments,” Jordan said. Price stressed a need for comments reflecting all perspectives. “You don’t want anything hijacked one way or the other,” Price said. Later in the meeting, Price said the city will review ways to ease the process of leaving critical comments. Such issues are expected to be discussed between July and November as residents weigh in at public meetings in each council district. After the council reviews results of those meetings, the city will conduct “at large” public meetings before approving the final project list in December. And in February 2014, the council is expected to call a bond election, with officials citing May 10, 2014, as the likely date. The next public meeting is set from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday July 25 at Meadowbrook United Methodist Church, 3900 Meadowbrook Drive.

Council approves Linwood apartment-townhome tax breaks In other business, the West Seventh Street Corridor can expect more housing options after the council approved tax breaks for a $50 million apartment and townhome development. No residents spoke for or against the plan in a public hearing preceding the council’s vote. By unanimous approval, the council gave the nod to Greystar Real Estates Partners LLC, which plans to purchase 24 vacant duplexes just west of Montgomery Plaza and replace them with 21 townhomes facing Carroll Street and three- and four-story apartment buildings with 347 units. “It’s an area that has not seen investment in quite some time,” said Robert Sturns, acting assistant director of the city’s Housing and Urban Development Department. The city agreed to abate up to 70 percent in city property taxes on the incremental value of real property investment for a 10-year period. That saves the company $1.9 million out of $2.7 million total taxes generated in those 10 years. In return, Fort Worth will gain $827,893 in property tax revenue in that period. About $200,000 in city permit fees also will be waived, helping South Carolina-based Greystar replace storm and sanitary sewers and other existing infrastructure not designed to accommodate such a dense development. In return for the tax savings, Greystar has agreed to complete the project with the greater of 30 percent, or $10.5 million, of its construction budget with Fort Worth contractors and the greater of 25 percent, or $8.7 million, with Fort Worth minority- and women-owned businesses. It also will spend the greater of 30 percent, or $70,050, of its services and supply budget with Fort Worth companies annually, and the greater of 25 percent, or $58,375 of that budget with, minority- and women-owned businesses annually. The project area encompasses 5.1 acres between Carroll and Foch streets and Azalea Avenue and Merrimac Street just west of the SuperTarget store anchoring the retail complex north of West Seventh Street. Greystar is developing the project and is securing construction financing for a development expected to reach construction shortly after the deal closes, which is expected to occur in mid-August. The development would be completed in January 2015.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Bonds could fund proposed Will Rogers Memorial Center upgrade Will Rogers Memorial Center could see a renovated cattle barn and multi-purpose pavilion as part of a proposed bond-funded project. By unanimous vote, the council approved public notice of plans to issue $13 million in combination tax and revenue bonds, or certificates of obligation, to ensure those improvements. State law allows municipal governing bodies to issue such debt without voter approval, but city policy allows bonds to fund such public improvements only after determining the city’s ability to assume additional debt. The city plans to use revenues from leasing the center to pay debt service on the bonds. The council is expected to consider approving the bond sale at its Aug. 20 regular meeting.