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Sunday, February 28, 2021

JPS’ planned $809 million bond plan being reconsidered

An $809 million bond package planned for November as part of a makeover of Fort Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital appears to be on hold.

According to the plan, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court was to have voted today to put the bond issue on a Nov. 3 ballot. That failed to happen, however. The proposal never made it to the court’s agenda and, at the opening of the meeting, County Administrator G.K. Maenius told the court there had been a change in plans.

Hospital officials, said Maenius, had told him they were reconsidering their proposal and would not ask that it be put to a vote before some time in 2016.

The plan was first made public in April with a presentation to the commissioners. During July, commissioners called a series of town hall meetings across the county at which JPS Health Network administrators pitched the proposal.

Attendance at the early meetings was sparse. As audiences have grown, however, they also have grown increasingly less receptive, their questions more piercing and their reactions more skeptical.

Now, the Tarrant County Republican Executive Committee, which includes all of the party’s county precinct chairmen, opposes the plan and has passed a unanimous resolution calling on county commissioners to refrain from scheduling a November bond election. Tea party conservatives flatly oppose the plan. Empower Texans, a statewide nonprofit that backs a number of ultraconservative politicians, is circulating a petition, admonishing commissioners to refrain from calling an election on the issue.

Ross Kecseg, a member of the group, arrived at commissioners court Tuesday with what he described as 650 signed copies of the petition, which he presented to Maenius.

Community activists such as Steve Hollern, a Fort Worth certified public accountant and well-known political organizer, oppose the bond plan. Administrators at other hospitals have damned it with faint praise, and support among commissioners is beginning to erode.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Andy Nguyen has been an outspoken skeptic from the outset, questioning the math that supports the proposal and projections for future operating cost savings by the hospital. Now, doubts are being voiced by Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes, who first supported the issue but has been dismayed by the light turnout at the town halls.

“I think we need to wait and get some more public input on this,” said Fickes.

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