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Fort Worth plans to move millions of federal dollars to meet spend-or-lose deadlines

Fort Worth is in a bind: spend all federal COVID-19 relief funds by 2026 or risk sending the money back to Washington, D.C.

Faced with rising construction costs and project delays, municipal staff are proposing a reorganization of budgets to meet deadlines and honor previous commitments. This includes reallocating money from the American Rescue Plan Act and general funds to projects that staff are confident can be completed within the next two years.

“This is a two-pronged strategy,” City Manager David Cooke told council members during a May 7 work session. “Let’s make sure we spend the ARPA and see what we can do to address some of these capital project needs.”

ARPA dollars must be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026.

About $85 million in federal and local money will be shifted, mostly to tackle transportation projects, while city staff continues to find funds to close a $100 million funding gap for later projects .

About $38.4 million in federal APRA money remains unused. Some of the remaining funds are currently going toward the Evans and Rosedale project, which has experienced several delays, and the Texas A&M Innovation Hub, which began work last summer.

City staff are proposing that these two projects be transferred to the general fund balance, as the allocated money is not expected to be spent by 2026.

“There is no timetable as to when the (general fund) money needs to be spent, so it will be at the pace we need to go to do Evans and Rosedale the right way,” Cooke said.

Instead, ARPA dollars will fund qualified capital projects.

Federal ARPA funds must be used for projects created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative economic impacts, as well as for government services that have seen revenue declines due to the pandemic. Funds can also be used to improve water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

The majority of the newly funded projects are transportation and road projects in north Fort Worth. This includes improving pedestrian safety along Long Avenue, as well as improving the intersections of CFA Intermodal Parkway, North Beach Street, Basswood Boulevard, Wichita Street and Western Center Boulevard.

Work on the Meadowbrook Golf Course maintenance building is also on the list.

Several council members representing south Fort Worth expressed concerns about the selection of capital projects and their heavy focus on the North Side.

Council member Chris Nettles, who represents southeast Fort Worth, which includes the Evans and Rosedale project, questioned why staff was choosing which projects to spend federal funds on rather than giving the council a comprehensive list and let him decide what interested him. according to the needs of voters.

Nettles said this concern had already been expressed to staff, during the budget process.

“I understand moving money. I understand this part. But when you give us a list that doesn’t represent where we transferred the money from, it just smells a little fishy,” Nettles said.

Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens also echoed the need for greater geographic diversity in selected transportation projects.

“This move is too north-centric,” Bivens said. “We also need language that promises the public, ‘We know we’re moving this money, but we’re going to commit to doing what we told you,’ and I’m not hearing that.”

Council member Carlos Flores, who has two projects that will benefit from ARPA dollars, said work has begun, but final funding is needed for completion. The scope of the two projects, Long Avenue and Basswood Boulevard, also increased to improve drainage.

“This has already been funded, but now supply chain issues and manufacturing slowdowns come into play,” Flores said. “It just needed more money to finish it, because as it stands they can’t finish it.”

Council member Alan Blaylock, who also has projects in his district, said these are committed projects that are no longer funded until completion due to rising costs and supply chain issues. ‘supply.

“I really don’t want us to go back on our previous commitments,” he said.

An additional $28 million from previous transportation bonds will be dedicated to work on Cromwell Marine Creek Road and Golden Triangle Boulevard.

Concerns were also raised by council member Elizabeth Beck about funding from the sale of the downtown library, which was previously allocated to finding a new site and is now being used to fund capital projects.

Beck told Cooke she was concerned that using funds originally dedicated to a new downtown library to fund other projects would make it more difficult to find a location when the time comes.

As land prices have risen, that task has become more difficult, she said.

“This board made a decision based on some information, I won’t even say it wasn’t good information, but just some assumptions that we would be able to find a building fairly quickly and operate again a downtown library, and we can,’” Beck said.

The city has $15.9 million from the sale of the downtown library and plans to use $3.4 million from that sale for the far northwest library.

Cooke said $12.5 million from the sale of the library would be used to meet other library needs, but did not say whether that money would be specifically dedicated to a downtown library.

“It could be a political choice. We have not yet dedicated it to a specific use. So the balance would not be biased,” Cooke said.

Some projects continue to experience funding gaps estimated at more than $100 million. Some of these projects are bond projects.

Another update will be presented to council at the May 21 meeting.

The city received $173 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars in 2021 and 2022 and spent much of it in the first six months. The funds supported major projects such as the convention center expansion, new city hall and the realignment of Commerce Street. Money was also allocated for housing and the city’s response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at [email protected] or @ssadek19.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and funders. Learn more about our editorial independence policy here.

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