Jack Z. Smith
Special Projects Reporter
The Tarrant Regional Water District board voted Tuesday to provide an additional $59.9 million in funding for the controversial Trinity Uptown project, in a meeting that achieved a first – it could be viewed live via streaming video by clicking a link on the district’s website. “I think that’s great,” said new, outspoken board member Mary Kelleher, an east Fort Worth resident who has complained frequently that the board needs to be more open in its operations and provide more information to the public. She campaigned on a theme of greater transparency in winning election to the board this spring and drawing more votes than any other candidate. The TRWD district also began, in August, posting video of past board meetings on its website for viewing by the general public. District spokesman Chad Lorance said live streaming the meetings and posting video of past meetings “is another way to help the taxpayers stay informed on the important decisions our board makes each month.” Previously, the board had only posted minutes of past meetings.
“We now have the equipment in place that allows us to tape and stream the board meetings live on the Internet,” he said. Lorance acknowledged that there has been “increased interest” in recent years in the TRWD, which supplies raw water to almost all of Tarrant County and much of North Central Texas, serving about 1.7 million customers. The board, as expected, voted to approve the $59.9 million in funding for the Uptown project, a huge flood control and economic development project designed to trigger extensive urban residential and commercial redevelopment of an 800-acre area on Fort Worth’s near north side.
The $59.9 million contribution, for the 2014 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, will be part of an interest-free loan of up to $226 million that the TRWD is providing to the Trinity River Vision Tax Increment Financing District, which is projected eventually to provide $320 million in funding for the Uptown project, as property valuations rise and tax revenues increase in the TIF district that includes the 800-acre redevelopment site and surrounding areas. The water district already is owed $42.8 million by the TIF as part of the interest-free loan. Board members Vic Henderson, Jack Stevens, Marty Leonard and Jim Lane voted for adoption of a fiscal 2014 General Fund budget of $80.7 million, of which the $59.9 million granted the Uptown project was the lion’s share. Kelleher abstained from voting on the General Fund budget. Kelleher campaigned on a theme of greater transparency in winning election to the board this year and drawing more votes than any other candidate.
She told the Fort Worth Business Press Tuesday, following the board meeting, that said she would now like to see the district begin posting on its website the agendas of meetings of the board committees, such as its environmental committee and its construction and operations committee. The district recently began posting notices of these committee meetings on its website, but only listing the time and location and not including an agenda. The water board also approved Tuesday a revenue budget of $126.4 million for the 2014 fiscal year. This budget pays for the district’s extensive water-supply operations, including operation of four reservoirs and a large network of pipelines. The operations are funded by income the district receives from sales of raw water to Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and numerous other North Texas cities.
The Tarrant Regional Water District Board held a July 18 workshop to discuss the district’s 2014 General Fund budget, but no smaller board committee held a budget discussion prior to its approval on Tuesday, according to TRWD General Manager Jim Oliver. An earlier version of this article included a comment implying that one of the board’s smaller committees had discussed the budget in a meeting prior to Tuesday’s vote.