State of the City: It’s great, but there’s plenty of work ahead

Mayor Betsy Price used her seventh State of the City address to list a series of victories over the past year, to talk about priorities in 2018 and to assure the sold-out crowd at the annual Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce event that there is no danger of Fort Worth becoming a bedroom community to Dallas.

That was a reference to concerns raised in the city’s strategic economic development plan, the first in Fort Worth’s history, a 500-page report available on the city’s website (fortworthtexas.gov/edplan).

“Fort Worth is not doomed,” Price said. “We have work to do and we’re honest about where we’re going with it. But I can stand here today and confidently report to you that the state of our city is very, very strong.

“People are flocking to Fort Worth. We’re closing in on 900,000 residents very fast. There’s an abundance of jobs in our region and outstanding education opportunities at every level,” she said.

Price used the Feb. 20 speech to urge people to vote and to call for state and national leaders to deal with immigration.

“Early voting … runs through March 2. We must be educated and engaged, and you must vote to have a voice,” she said. “The primaries are critically important in Texas. And my friend Charlie Geren just this week said, ‘Don’t let an outsider control our local elections.’ ”

State Rep. Geren, R-Fort Worth, is locked in a primary contest for the Texas House District 99 seat. Election day is March 6.

Fort Worth, Price said, is “a very diverse city – different backgrounds, different stories, experiences, all make our city a stronger, more vibrant place.”

“But when a portion of our community believes they have no voice, and they feel that opportunity has passed them by, a divide does grow. But we’d be fooling ourselves to ignore the fact that disparities still exist in Fort Worth,” she said.

That’s the thrust behind the city’s Race & Culture Task Force, which is looking at ethnic disparities ranging from criminal justice to jobs to housing.

“We’re not trying to solve the world’s problems here, just make Fort Worth better, and I truly believe we can do that by listening and learning with open hearts and open minds,” Price said.

She said she is concerned about the city’s Hispanic and immigrant communities.

“I hope all of you will join me in expressing support for immigration reform at the national level that prioritizes families and works to find a reasonable, responsible solution to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” Price said. “It’s an issue that needs to be settled, and one that I’m passionate about. These are incredibly difficult issues, but the entire city council remains committed to seeing the change.”

Price also addressed a looming problem with the city’s pension fund in which the unfunded liability stands at $1.6 billion. That, she said, means the pension fund could run out of money by 2050.

“We didn’t create this problem, but we’re darn sure going to fix it, and we’re going to fix it locally,” Price said.

She said that six years ago the city made tough decisions to tackle the issue, but that it is now clear that there’s much to be done still.

City Manager David Cooke has established a pension task force that has been working for more than a year on solutions.

“But to be honest, it’s a solution that must be sustainable, and everyone must be a part of it,” Price said. It might mean that city employees will contribute more, the city might have to put more money into the fund, and changes in pension benefits might be needed.

“We remain focused on solving this problem. The task force should bring a resolution to us this spring that helps settle the pension shortfalls,” Price said.

Following are excerpts from the mayor’s address:

2017 Successes:

  • We promised we’d focus on targeting neighborhoods and investing in the vitality of our neighborhoods. We began that process this year with a $2.5 million investment in the Stop Six neighborhood. We listened to the residents. We took action to enhance public safety, quality of life, and it’s working.
  • We opened Airfield Falls Trail Head next to Tarrant’s only natural waterfall. It’s beautiful, if you haven’t seen it. We also reopened Cross Timbers Trails and a gorgeous new boardwalk for the nature center.
  • We reopened the historic Rockwood Golf Course, after a complete renovation, and it’s drawing crowds. There’s no excuse for any of you to not get outside and enjoy Fort Worth.
  • We unveiled the city’s new development strategy to bring new investments and jobs where they’re most needed. We found partners … who committed to investing inside the loop in our inner city.
  • Outside the loop, we couldn’t forget to mention the growth at Alliance, a global hub for business, logistics and technology. We continue to see momentum building and expansions coming in, feeding off the success of Facebook in our ever-burgeoning Alliance area.
  • One of our most important promises that we made last year was a renewed focus on education. Our students today are our workforce and our professionals tomorrow.

We created Read Fort Worth in 2016, and it is taking off. Read Fort Worth is a collective impact effort lead by (Fort Worth ISD) Superintendent Kent Scribner and Burlington Northern Chairman Matt Rose and the mayor’s office.

Quality, accessible child care is truly a critical workforce issue. Sixty-two percent of Texas moms are now in the paid labor force, and their salary is more often than not the sole support for their families. We’ve made great progress with Fort Worth’s ISD universal pre-k. Ninety-five percent of available seats are now filled, but there’s more we can do.

Thanks to Kara Waddell at Child Care Associates and Tarrant County Workforce Solutions, we’re expanding high-quality programs across Tarrant County, and we’re seeing business communities step up, too.

UNT Health Science Center and Lena Pope Home announced just this week a partnership to create on-site, high-quality child care for students and employees and the community.

What’s ahead in 2018:

  • In 2018, the focus to address those challenges before us, we’ve decided we’ll address them by executing a comprehensive strategy to attract and retain all businesses of every size, expanding transit options, maintaining the great safety that Fort Worth has a history of, for all neighborhoods, addressing those lingering financial concerns, and most important to me, overcoming racial divides that threaten the very heart of what makes Fort Worth so strong.
  • You know me, a healthy and active city. You’ve heard me talk on and on about the success of Fit Worth and our Blue Zones progress. The initiatives are working. This year we had 1,500 teachers join 23,000 students to compete in our fall challenge. We even added a literacy component, and the kids clocked an additional 9 million minutes of reading during our six-week challenge. That’s a lot.
  • Let’s talk about our efforts to attract and retain businesses and to create jobs. In this recent economic report, it noted that 60 percent of our residents go to work every day outside of Fort Worth city limits. That’s a problem. We simply have to do better at attracting jobs and retaining the jobs that we have.
  • We simply must be proactive in marketing Fort Worth and not just reacting.
  • We have an active transportation plan currently under development that’s focused on making the city more convenient and safer to walk or bike if you want to. … But addressing the gridlock on our streets and highways will require better public transit.
  • City Hall’s done a great job stretching the dollars, but there’s always more we can do. We must have a competitive tax policy for both businesses, large and small, and homeowners. It concerns me that our current tax base is 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial.
  • In May of this year, we’ll be asking you to approve a $400 million bond package. Sixty-five percent of that will support streets and mobility improvements. But it includes community centers, libraries, parks and trails. It’s a very carefully planned and well-vetted bond package, and we will deliver those projects on time and on budget.
  • Looking at the years beyond, we must be focused on attracting new business and retaining what we have. Along with that focus comes an attraction and a development of new talent pool. In doing so, we’ll attract the next generation of workers. What is it that’s important to millennials and the new gen-Zs? These talented young men and women are looking for cities that have a sense of place – check. A high-energy, urban lifestyle – check. A strong arts scene, a thriving creative class – we’ve got it. And a healthy city – we’ve got that in spades, right?

You can read the original article from Fort Worth Business by clicking here.

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