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FORT WORTH — It’s time for an update on the city’s infrastructure.Now wait a minute! I know you’re thinking, “Infrastructure? How boring…” But before you bail, understand that this could hit all of us in the wallet…
Now that I have your attention, let me first explain that your city’s budget generally has two parts: 1) the operation side that pays for city programs and services, and 2) the capital side that pays for hard assets like streets, parks, public buildings, etc.
Fort Worth has struggled to stay ahead of its aging infrastructure needs—namely streets. In fact, there are still outstanding projects from the 2004 Bond Program. That’s unacceptable.
To make matters worse, the city has failed to adequately invest in infrastructure. In 1995, 42 percent of your tax bill went toward capital projects. This year, only 18 percent was invested in infrastructure. During one of Fort Worth’s largest growth spurts, the city was, in effect, reducing investment in infrastructure.
The result: More than $2.2 billion in unmet capital needs across Fort Worth.
We’ve got a big hill to climb, so how do we tackle this challenge? One quick way would be to raise your tax rate, but neither I nor my City Council colleagues believe that’s the answer at this juncture.
So what can we do?
First, we need to make sure this challenge is on the front burner. It’s important to plan ahead, so we initiated a Capital Development Plan. We will be meeting regularly to discuss infrastructure, identify needs and find solutions.
Second, instead of increasing your taxes, the City Council has committed to shift money from the operation side of the budget to the capital side. This isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do. We will increase our ability to pay for major projects by shifting tax revenue to the capital side of the budget for at least the next three years.
Third, the city must do a better job of completing capital projects. We’re pressing hard on city staff to complete projects faster. We on the City Council expect results—and so do you.
We’re seeing progress, evidenced by the construction across the city. During the first quarter of fiscal year 2012, Fort Worth only spent $2.1 million in infrastructure contracts. That number went to more than $7 million in the second quarter, and up to $26 million in the third quarter. We’ve added a private partner to help maintain this progress into the fourth quarter and beyond.
But construction will stop once the money from outstanding Bond Programs runs dry. At the current rate, we expect to spend the remaining $185 million by September of 2013.
If the goal is to chip away at that $2.2 billion in infrastructure needs, a new bond proposal will have to go to voters in the coming years. But let me make something very clear: Your City Council won’t put anything on the ballot until you’re confident in the city’s ability to plan, design and complete these projects in a timely manner. We will be watching this closely over the coming months.
Now, it’s important to point out that even if a bond proposal were to be considered, we only have the capacity within the current property tax rate to support about $240 million over a 5 to 7 year span. That’s a tough pill to swallow considering the billions in current needs, including streets, fire stations, libraries, parks and more.
Some believe we should consider another permanent funding source for streets. That could be additional developer fees, a transportation utility fee, or something else. Others say we should revisit the city’s requirement to set aside 2 percent of every capital project for public art.
If we are serious about addressing the city’s capital needs, we should have these and other conversations. Ultimately, if we fail to address these needs, we fail current and future generations.
Without adequate infrastructure, we have no growth…there are no added jobs…businesses will leave and so will citizens. In effect, the city dies.
Admittedly infrastructure is pretty heavy subject, but an important one. Rest assured your City Council is committed to investing in capital needs; and we plan to do so while maintaining high quality standards and running a tight ship to minimize any hit to our pocket books.
To be continued…
By the way, coming this fall, the city will begin holding community meetings to discuss the city’s Comprehensive Plan and gather citizen feedback on what infrastructure projects you think deserve priority. For more information or to arrange a meeting for your organization, call the Planning and Development Department at 817-392-8000.