Dallas City Council spent this week hammering out details of the annual budget. The city auditor is also hard at work, this time slamming another department at City Hall for mismanagement. Plus, a local hospital is leading the fight against Big Pharma for the Texas opioid epidemic in a lawsuit filed in Dallas.
Here's what happened in Dallas this week:
D2 downtown route
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) delivered its latest proposal for the second downtown rail alignment, dubbed D2. It’s a two-mile tunnel connecting Woodall Rogers Freeway to I-345 in Deep Ellum.
The proposed route would start by the Perot Museum and run along Griffin; turn and run east on Commerce; before turning north at Pearl to reach the East Transit Center. Five new stations include Museum Way, Metro Center, Commerce Street, CBD East, and a relocated Deep Ellum Station.
DART made a presentation to the Parks Board on September 5 outlining how D2 would affect downtown parks.
The line would run beneath Belo Garden Park and alongside Main Street Garden Park and Carpenter Park.
The Commerce Street Station proposed for Pegasus Park Plaza has a number of options, including a glass-encased subway entrance in the back of the park on Main Street next to the Magnolia Hotel; on AT&T's new campus; sidewalk entrances outside Main Street Alley near the Joule and Neiman Marcus; and two less favorable options by the Neiman Marcus parking garage.
The project's original completion date of 2024 is already expected to be delayed.
Dallas City Council is one step closer to adopting a 2019-2020 budget after amendments focused on economic development, humans services, and library needs were approved September 4.
Some of the amendments passed would:
- Set the tax rate the same as 2018-19 at 77.67 cents
- Hire three additional planners with $210,000 in Sustainable Development and Construction to expedite zoning and permitting applications
- Fund fire ladder truck at Fire Station #18 and hire a crew to man it at $2.2 million
- Fund late-night and after-school youth program at recreation centers and parks
- Subsidize an additional football game at $150,000 at the State Fair between historically black colleges Texas Southern University and the University of Southern Florida
- Reallocate money within Homeless Solutions to focus on unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness
- Allocate $200,000 to address Shingle Mountain and other land-use and zoning matters
City Council is expected to adopt the budget on September 18. The full budget can be viewed on the City Hall website.
VisitDallas on hold
The contract renewal with tourism bureau VisitDallas isn't being reviewed until October, despite the fact that the city of Dallas is resolving its 2019-2020 budget right now.
The contract came up during a September 4 briefing on the budget, when council member Lee Kleinman proposed numerous amendments, including the idea of eliminating the Creative Industries office from the general fund budget and moving the task of attracting movies and film productions to the Convention Center or VisitDallas.
Assistant city manager Joey Zapata reiterated the fact that the contract won't be considered until October — a month after the council adopts its final budget.
"I'd express frustration that all these conversations we need to have were not had prior to us working on this budget," Kleinman said.
Parkland opioid lawsuit
Parkland Hospital is leading a civil lawsuit against drug companies accused of creating the opioid epidemic in Texas. The lawsuit filed September 3 in Dallas County is being brought forward by 29 Texas hospitals in response to shouldering costs brought on by opioid addiction.
The lawsuit accuses more than 40 manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies of negligence, fraud, and civil conspiracy. It alleges that Big Pharma companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma, supplied enough hydrocodone and oxycodone for every Dallas County resident to have 28 pills a year from 2006 to 2012.
Parkland Health and Hospital System is one of three public hospitals seeking reimbursement from taxpayer funds spent treating the opioid epidemic.
Real estate audit
The city's Real Estate Department has received poor marks for overlooking basic management functions from a city audit.
The Real Estate Department maintains the City Land Bank and the directory of all city-owned property, including surplus lots and buildings. The group manages acquisitions, abandonments, foreclosures, and departmental relocations. At least, that's what it's supposed to be doing.
The audit cited the department for not maintaining a city-wide system to track data about all city properties. It found that, in the city's real estate directory, 92 percent of data points were blank. The result: The city has no way to identify cost-savings, revenue opportunities, or property details.
The Real Estate Department also didn't restrict access to the directory by at least four former employees, one of whom was logged accessing the database after leaving the city.
The audit covered management, operations, and transactions from October 2016 to September 2018.
Other findings included departmental procedures that did not comply with state law and city code, and there was no annual inventory completed. There was also no standard property tracking across departments, including Parks and Recreation, Dallas Water Utilities and Building Services, all of which manage city-owned property.