Dallas City Council Finds Tentative Solution for Gridlock on $800M Bond Package: Spend $1B Instead

Dallas City Council members appear to have finally found a way to agree on the contents of an $800 November million bond package: spending another $225 million.City staff on Wednesday initially proposed throwing $125 million more at the bond. But council members still didn't like the way that staff had divvied up the projects. Eventually, in a straw vote, the council's majority supported spending another $100 million on top of that.Council member Scott Griggs and Mayor Mike Rawlings suggested a bond package of $1.025 billion after a lengthy discussion in which council members expressed frustrations about the process of allocating potential bond dollars. The Aug. 9 deadline for putting the bond on the November ballot was beginning to loom over the council members, who don't meet in July."We've got to fish or cut bait, and I'm for fishing," Rawlings said. "Let's get on with this."Until recently, council members had balked at getting close to the city's $1.2 billion borrowing capacity in the bond package. Some last year had even proposed spending only $500 million on the bond program.Now, that will be the amount the city spends on streets alone in the bond package. The rest of the bond will likely be made up of around $180 million or more for parks and trails, $67 million for drainage projects, more than $80 million for city facilities, about $65 million for housing and economic development and other money left to be finalized. Voters will also get to vote separately on tens of millions in funding for Fair Park facilities.Council members hemmed and hawed for two hours about the make-up of the bond package. Some wanted the bond to be split equally among their 14 districts. Others didn't. Some wanted more for traffic signals and senior programs and recreation centers. Others had different projects in mind.That led to finger-pointing and frustration with city staff. Council member Adam Medrano asked Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry if he determined the package based on "the last council person you talked to." Al-Ghafry later denied that was the case.City Manager T.C. Broadnax told council members they needed to give a clear direction "other than you don't like what we've presented."Council member Adam McGough said the higher number is probably necessary to get a consensus because many districts have had to wait for projects and repairs for years."We're in a situation where we have way too many needs and there's no way to get there," said Adam McGough.The bond is only the beginning of hard financial choices the council will have to make in the coming months. In August, the city will begin to discuss its annual budget for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The budget will be tight. The city will spend roughly $40 million more next year on the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, and council members are hoping to soon raise the property tax homestead exemption for seniors and disabled residents. Doing so would mean the city would forego millions more in revenue.The bond package is the council's chance to bring progress to their districts in tight financial times. And despite the discontent with the bond package, Rawlings said he found the process healthy because he learned about his colleagues' priorities.Al-Ghafry, who only joined the city a few months ago, said the feedback helps him and the city staff learn what's important, too."And at the end of the day, a great bond program will be passed," Al-Ghafry said. "There's a great opportunity for us to learn from that process and do better at it. Next week, I think we'll come in with a much better proposal than we came in with today."  Continue reading...

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