City Hall News
Dallas City Council meeting on upcoming bond program draws spirited crowd
If you thought the words "Capital Bond program" were boring, you were not part of the surprisingly spirited crowd at the Dallas City Council meeting on December 6.
The city is working on a bond program proposal for 2024, one that will theoretically go on the ballot in May, asking voters to fund everything from parks to streets to libraries to homeless solutions.
Wednesday night's meeting was the City Council's first stab at prioritizing where the money would go. But first came a demanding gaggle of citizens eager to weigh in during the public comment session at the outset of the meeting. An unexpected 133 people signed up to deliver their two minutes and two cents on where the possible $1.1 billion should be spent.
The speakers took more than three hours and included homeless supporters, parks champions, culture vultures, and environmentalists, addressing the proposal assembled in the past 18 months by a task force composed of 15 council-appointed residents.
Sporting buttons or shirts to indicate their cause, they asked for money for housing, parks, trails, the arts, and skate parks. Some came with warnings.
"Already people are leaving the [city] for suburbs," said one speaker, Marc Ishmael, sporting a T-shirt for Dallas Housing Coalition, a community assistance group. He sought bond funding for more middle-class residential housing in the city, where the average sales price for a condo has risen 13 percent this year.
"By dedicating significant funding from the bond allocation, you can leverage private investment as well as other state and federal resources," he said.
Others made simpler pleas, such as Samuel Mortimer, representing the Friends of Santa Fe Trail, who asked the city to "invest heavily in parks, trails, and green space."
The ask list is deep, and the council discussed the merits and demerits of the committee's proposal, also referring to ideas compiled by City Hall staff.
The committee proposals broke down as follows:
- Street and Transportation $532,194,332
- Park & Recreation $225,000,000
- Public Safety Facilities $88,007,654
- Flood Protection and Storm Drainage $50,000,000
- Economic Development $30,000,000
- Cultural Arts Facilities $49,292,043
- Library Facilities $11,135,000
- City Facilities $44,360,500
- Housing $70,000,000
In the mix is a $50 million police academy - "the Harvard of public safety," said Arun Agarwal, chair of the Community Bond Task Force - as well as $59 million for repairs on the city’s arts facilities, even a $2.5 million skate park.
The council noted conflicts among projects, creating a de facto competition that council member Chad West said created a “hunger games” scenario.
For example: Dallas Housing Coalition is asking for $200,000,000 for affordable housing. That's versus the $25,000,000 recommended by the Community Bond Task Force, versus $70,000,000 suggested by city staff.
“We know the needs are endless and I don’t see this as one department versus the other,” West said. “I don’t see this as housing versus parks and I feel like it’s become that in the media.”
Once finalized, the $1.1 billion will be broken into requests by city departments. Residents will vote on each separately.
If the bond election is to make the May ballot, the council must approve that package by February, and more discussions are definitely in the works.
Some council members felt that November – coincident with the federal Presidential election – might be a better choice.
“I’ve been saying I want it in November because I just don’t think we’re going to be ready,” council member Paula Blackmon said.
She was seconded by council member Cara Mendelsohn, who said bond subcommittees were “rushed” and data used to determine some projects was not complete.