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Thursday, October 22, 2020
Government State of the City: Mayor emphasizes momentum

State of the City: Mayor emphasizes momentum

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

In her 2020 State of the City address, Mayor Betsy Price covered a wide range of topics, emphasizing that the city’s momentum was indicating that past investments and actions are now bearing fruit.

Among the initiatives she highlighted were health, education, workforce and economic development. She also noted that the city was working to develop plans for a new city hall, as well as moving forward with work on plans to re-develop the Fort Worth Convention Center. Price has convened a Convention Center Design Review Committee with the goal of the expansion being completed in 2026.

The event began with a bit of a miscue. Price was supposed to enter the event accompanied by the inaugural class of the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine all dancing to the thundering sounds of the high-energy remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation.” They missed their cues a bit, but the message was still clear as the song’s lyrics include the lines “A little less conversation, a little more action please.” The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll might have been talking to one of his innumerable movie love interests, but the mayor of Fort Worth was speaking to a city that has seen unprecedented growth under her 9-year watch. And, it should be noted, accompanying unprecedented challenges.

Here’s a rundown of key points from the mayor’s speech:

HEALTH

“I’ve believed from the beginning that the health and wellness of our community is a core responsibility of the city. A healthy and engaged community is a successful and prosperous city,” she said.

The TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, she noted, is tackling the growing physician shortage and this year announced a new residency program.

Price also shouted the praises of The Blue Zones Project which “continues to positively impact the overall health and wellness of our community. “

She noted they have recently started working with neighborhoods to increase community gardens and work with farmers and growers to expand farmers markets – which recently started accepting SNAP benefits. In the fall of 2019, a first-of-its-kind partnership with FWISD launched, opening a Healthy School Pantry at Daggett Middle School.

Noting that Fort Worth is losing 50 acres per week of natural open space to development, Price said the city has made a purchase for additional open space, adding 50 acres at Broadcast Hill, which will be combined with the existing 160 acre indigenous remnant of Fort Worth prairie known as Tandy Hills Nature Preserve.

Over the past year, the Fort Worth Fire Department has expanded its Peaks and Ladders partnership with Cook Children’s focusing on a variety of efforts, including drowning prevention, providing life jackets, cribs, car seats, and bike helmets.

Fort Worth Fire Chief Davis and Police Chief Ed Kraus have had great success throughout our community with common-sense collaborations such as the HOPE Team (Homeless Outreach Program Enforcement), she said.

The HOPE Team provides crisis response and intervention to our homeless population via a three-pronged approach (FWPD, FWFD, MHMR), the only program of its type in the entire nation, she said. So far, results are impressive, with a 20% reduction in violent crime around the Lancaster area – not only impacting the bottom-line for taxpayers, but positively impacting relationships between our unsheltered population and first responders.

EDUCATION

Robert Kaplan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas understands that “investment in children’s education is economic development and it’s the cornerstone of any successful city,” Price said.

Price noted the work of prioritizing early childhood education through Read Fort Worth and Best Place for Kids.

The area must also be, not just a Best Place for Kids, but also a Best Place for Working Parents. Price announced the city is finalizing its own paid family leave plan for parents and that the city will honor businesses in our city that are offering a diverse range of family-friendly practices though an inaugural Best Place for Working Parents Award Family-Friendly Innovators.

Price cited PMG as a policy innovator, Bell as a resource innovator and Fidelity Investments as an event innovator. SigmaPro was cited as a small business innovator.

In North Texas today, 65% of the jobs currently require a post-secondary credential. Furthermore, on average, only 23% of the 22,000 graduates every year in Tarrant County are attaining a two-year credential or bachelor’s degree – and if graduates are economically disadvantaged it is only 10% of our students, she said.

Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, several community partners, business leaders, foundations, and educational institutions are launching a new organization called the Tarrant To & Through (T3) Partnership. T3’s mission is to ensure more Tarrant County students obtain success after high school – that each student has the training and skills they need for today’s workforce

ECONOMIC PROSPERITY

Price noted that the city is in the best financial position it has seen in decades, if ever.

“Growing and attracting businesses simply wouldn’t be possible in Fort Worth if we had not gotten our fiscal house in order,” she said.

Price noted the city has lowered the tax rate, most recently by 3.75 cents in FY2020. The city has lowered the tax rate by 10.75 cents in four years, she said.

“With the help of [City Manager David Cooke] and his incredible team, the city’s finances are in better shape than they have been in many years, perhaps in our history,” she said.

The city is now competitive with Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio, with much of that due to the work the city has done on the pension plans.

“We’ve been working on this pension since 2011,” she said. “I can’t over-emphasize how significant that is.

In spring of 2019, Fort Worth made changes to the city’s employee retirement fund, successfully eliminating the threat of the fund running out of money by 2048.

“We took it in chunks. We tackled it twice and as credit ratings for cities across the nation are going down, Fort Worth’s has stabilized and even improved,” she said.

On a neighborhood level, the city of Fort Worth is in its fourth year of the neighborhood improvement initiative, announcing an investment of $3 million into the Rosemont neighborhood in January.

Other neighborhood developments cited by Price:

• The new Como Community Center – a 25,000 square foot facility in the center of the historic Como neighborhood.

• The re-opening of historic Bunche Park, a park developed in the 1950’s when Fort Worth neighborhoods and parks were segregated by race. The opening of Bunche Park continues the important and exciting momentum in Stop-Six, spurred by the city’s neighborhood improvement initiative in 2017.

• Opening of Frank Kent’s Dream Park, a park for all abilities in the heart of downtown’s Trinity Park

Price also announced that Fort Worth is one of five finalist cities competing for HUD’s Choice Neighborhood grant, a $35 million grant opportunity for our community.

TRANSPORTATION

Price also cited Fort Worth’s Alliance Corridor and its latest partnership garnering national attention, Hillwood’s Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) at Alliance. This Mobility Innovation Zone will accelerate the commercialization of mobility solutions and technologies and is leading the nation in smart infrastructure. Alliance’s MIZ is recognized nationally as a premier hub and environment to develop, test, scale, and commercialize future advanced mobility and technology solutions – namely, unmanned aerial systems and autonomous and integrated freight. “It will set us apart,” she said.

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