Council Briefing: Date of Next Bond Election

The City Manager has recommended moving the next bond election from May 2007 to November 2006. The benefit is that the bond campaign is separated from the Mayoral and Council elections in May 2007. The downside is that the estimated cost to the City for an election in November 2006 is between $500 – $750k.

The Council supported moving the bond election to November 2006.

Council Briefing: Trinity Crossing Entertainment Project

Today the Council voted to authorize the Economic Development team to continue negotiating the Trinity Crossing Entertainment project. You can see more info and my thoughts on this issue here:
Previous Blog on Trinity Crossing

Slot machines and a horse race track are currently part of the entertainment center proposal, and I’ve got concerns about bringing gambling in our City. I directed staff to look at this issue more broadly, not just at how much money this will bring to the City. For example, we need to consider the impact of gambling on public safety, social cost in gambling addiction, whether other cities that have adopted slots gambling have themselves become “addicted” to the revenue, and why other cities have tried to get out of the slot machine gambling business.

This issue is now going back to the Economic Development Committee to discuss concerns brought up by me and other councilmembers. (I’m on that committee.) We’ll then give direction to the negotiating team about what we as a City want to see in the agreement.

PROPOSAL: To continue negotiating the land trade and entertainment project; to bring a recommendation to the Economic Development Committee by November 21; to brief the full Council by Dec. 5; to present for Council vote by Dec. 14. (BB moved, JF seconded.)

VOTE: (13:2, AH voting yes, LM and MR voting no)

Council Briefing – Hunt Oil Headquarters Tax Incentives

Today the Council voted in favor of a $6.3M tax abatement for Hunt Oil to build its headquarters at 1900 Akard Street in Downtown. You can see my thoughts on this issue here: Previous Blog on Hunt Oil Headquarters

VOTE: (11:2, AH voting yes, LM and MR voting no, GG absent from vote, LK recused)

Proposed Tax Abatement for Hunt Oil

The City’s Economic Development Department is proposing to create an incentive package to keep Hunt Oil in Downtown Dallas. The City Council will be briefed on the proposal this Wednesday. A copy of the Council’s upcoming briefing is available here: Council Briefing

Hunt Oil (no relation) has been in Downtown Dallas for 68 years. Right now, they rent their office space (and pay no property taxes), but plan to build their own headquarters. Dallas is competing against Irving as the location for the headquarters.

Hunt Oil proposes to construct a $120M building on the west side of the Dallas Museum of Art. Currently, a parking lot and small building sit on the land.

The property taxes the city currently receives on the proposed construction site are minimal. Hunt Oil’s new headquarters will add over $120M to the site’s taxable value. That is more than 7-11’s new headquarters. (Earlier this year, the Mayor led the effort to provide more than $9.75M in incentives to keep 7-11 in Dallas.)

The proposal before the City Council is to abate $6.3M in property taxes from the new building over ten years. It is important to note that the proposal calls for the city to abate taxes that we do not currently receive, and would not otherwise be getting from the site. We’re not taking money from the general fund and giving it to Hunt Oil. Instead we would be taking new tax dollars generated from the headquarters building and rebating 79% of that for ten years. (We would still get 21% of the new property taxes for ten years ($3.87M), then receive 100% starting at year 11 ($1M/year).)

The only legitimate argument against granting the tax incentives is that another company would come along and build on the site without incentives. Unfortunately, recent history shows that hasn’t happened (witness the $60M in public money incentives that the Mayor fought so hard for on the Mercantile project and the $9.75M for 7-11 because the projects weren’t getting built without incentives).

The economic reality of today is that cities must fight to attract and keep large companies that create jobs and increase our tax base. Currently, the suburbs are winning that battle, and the burden of financing our city’s infrastructure is falling more and more to homeowners via residential property taxes. If we want to continue letting the suburbs take away our tax base, we can dig our heels in and tell these companies to go away. But in the end, we lose out.

Dallas has come around to creating business development incentives very late in the game. We lost EDS. And Frito Lay. And Mary Kay, Hagger, Perot Systems, Dr. Pepper, Mobil… and the list goes on. We can’t afford to lose another Dallas business and all the money and jobs that go with it.

Proposal to Create “Trinity Crossing Entertainment Complex”

On Wednesday, the Council will be briefed by the Economic Development Department on a proposal to create an entertainment complex near the Convention Center in Downtown Dallas. You can read the briefing here: Council Briefing

The terms of the proposal have not been hammered out yet, but the tentative plan looks like this:

-The City owns Reunion Arena, but is losing over a million dollars a year on it. The arena’s total land area is about 360,000 sq. ft.
-The City owns half of the Convention Center’s Parking Lot E. Hunt Consolidated owns the other half, about 331,000 sq. ft.
-Lot E is where a company named Dallas City Limits is interested in creating an entertainment complex.
-The proposed deal would entail a land swap between Hunt Consolidated (Parking Lot E) and the City of Dallas (Reunion Arena). The City has received two conflicting appraisals on the properties, so we’re doing a third appraisal. At that point we’ll have more details about the possible land swap.

That’s part one of the deal. The second part of the deal proposes that the City sell Lot E to Dallas City Lights for fair market value to build the enterntainment complex.

As proposed, the entertainment complex would house retail shops, restaurants, and a horse racing track with “Video Lottery Terminals.” That’s a fancy way of saying slot machines.

I am supportive of the idea of consolidating the land at Lot E in order to create an entertainment center. I am also supportive of creating an entertainment center in our Downtown. HOWEVER, I am very troubled by the idea of allowing slot machines at the race track. Slot machines are highly addictive, prey on the poor, and in general create a seedy atmosphere that I don’t think is right for our Downtown.

Many cities that once permitted slot machines are now putting constraints on them or getting rid of them altogether. If our city becomes dependent on slot machine revenue, it would be nearly impossible to get rid of that form of gambling down the line. (The State Legislature would have to approve such slot machines before Dallas could proceed.)

I am less troubled by regulated horse racing if slot machines are excluded. However, race tracks without slot machines are in decline. Successful new racetracks, called “racinos,” incorporate slot machines and other forms of gambling into the mix. When these racinos are financially successful, it is due to the non-race gambling income, such as slot machines. So the question becomes, can our proposed race track stand alone, without slot machines, and still make money? If not, can Dallas City Limits put together an entertainment package that doesn’t include a race track or slot machines?

Charter Amendments – What Will Be on the Nov. 8 Ballot?

On November 8, there will be a referendum on proposed Dallas City Charter changes. Our Charter is like our city’s constitution: it dictates how our city is governed and how the power is divided among the different branches of government.

The proposed Charter changes are set forth in 13 separate propositions on the ballot. Proposition 14 is a bond referendum on the homeless intake center. I’ve put together an explanation of the ballot initiatives below. I support these changes to our City Charter.

Stronger Mayor and Increased City Council Finance and Audit Oversight

  • Mayor hires City Manager and determines compensation (not Council)
  • Mayor or majority of Council fires the City Manager
  • City Manager and Mayor jointly prepare the city’s annual budget for Council’s approval
  • Increases Mayor’s salary from $60,000 to $120,000
  • Mayor approves City Manager’s appointment of the police chief and fire chief
  • Creates a finance, audit, and accountability committee (composed of at least five Council members); all members, the chair, and vice-chair are appointed by a majority of Council (excluding the Mayor)
  • Majority of Council (excluding the Mayor) hires, fires, and determines the compensation for a Council finance and budget oversight officer
  • Council’s finance and budget oversight officer must be a Dallas resident
  • Provides assistants to the Council’s finance and budget oversight officer, who are exempt from civil service
  • Majority of Council (excluding the Mayor) hires, fires, and determines compensation for city auditor
  • These changes take effect on the date of inauguration of the City Council members elected at the May 5, 2007 general election, pending voting rights pre-clearance by the United States Justice Department

Requirements for Key City Staff

  • The following must live in Dallas: City Manager, city attorney, city auditor, and city secretary
  • Majority of Council (instead of 2/3) may fire city attorney and the city secretary
  • City secretary may fire his or her assistants without City Council consent
  • Clarifies duties of the city auditor
  • Provides for the appointment, discharge, and duties of assistants to city auditor
  • Lets Council members select their professional and administrative assistants

Municipal Courts and Municipal Judges

  • Provides procedure to remove municipal judges prior to expiration of their terms
  • Corrects obsolete references to the municipal courts as "corporation courts"

Emergency Management and Continuity of Governance

  • Lets city adopt a disaster emergency preparedness ordinance and develop a comprehensive emergency management plan
  • Lets city attorney initiate court action to order an election to fill City Council vacancies in the event of the simultaneous death or disability of all City Council members

Disciplinary Actions, Appeals, Civil Service, and Other Personnel Matters

  • Eliminates provision allowing a police chief or fire chief, or an assistant above the rank of captain, to be restored to a prior held rank or a lower appointive rank upon being removed for unfitness
  • Clarifies the process for disciplining employees of the police and fire departments
  • Eliminates requirements that the City Manager, the city attorney, and department directors be given a public hearing before the City Council prior
    to being discharged
  • Exempts the city secretary’s office and the city auditor’s office from civil service
  • Clarifies that city employees in the unclassified civil service and city employees exempt from civil service do not have the right to appeal disciplinary actions
  • Requires a "reasonable person" standard be used in civil service trial board hearings and administrative law judge hearings
  • Provides that charter provisions and city personnel rules will prevail over any conflicting civil service rule

Elections and Campaign Contributions

  • Lets the city to adopt regulations for campaign contributions and expenditures for city elections
  • Requires publication (both before and after a City Council election) of all campaign contributions made to City Council candidates
  • Lets general elections be held on the first authorized election date after March 1 (instead of after February 1) of each odd-numbered year
  • General elections will be held in May (instead of April) of odd-numbered years if the state ceases to restrict election dates
  • Councilmembers elected at a general election will take office the first Monday following the 30th calendar day after the final canvass of the general election

City Boards and Commissions

  • Increases the civil service board from five to seven members
  • Civil Service Board member or adjunct member may be removed without written reasons or an opportunity to present a defense
  • City board and commission members will be appointed during September (instead of during August) of each odd numbered year and will serve a term not to exceed two years from October 1 (instead of from September 1) or until their successors are appointed and qualified
  • Advisory board and commission members may not hold over longer than nine months after the expiration of their terms or after the creation of vacancies in their positions
  • redistricting commissioners’ terms end when they complete the redistricting
  • City Council must appoint a charter review commission at least every 10 years to review the city charter and make a report to the City Council

City Treasurer and Financial Matters

  • Provides that moneys from the sale of lawfully authorized commercial paper notes are deemed to be in the city’s treasury
  • Makes the city’s chief financial officer the city treasurer
  • Clarifies that city money is deposited into the city treasury or city
    depository instead of with the city treasurer
  • Corrects obsolete references to director of revenue and taxation and the
    director of finance

Solid Waste Franchises

  • Allows city to grant franchises for solid waste hauling, solid waste pickup, solid waste recycling, and solid waste disposal
  • Exempts such franchises from rate regulation

Fire-Rescue Department

  • Renames the city’s fire department as the fire-rescue department
  • Gives members of the fire-rescue department police powers in rescue situations

Official City Newspaper

  • Eliminates requirement for an official city newspaper
  • Requires city notices to be published in newspapers of general circulation in the city (instead of the “official” newspaper)

Annexations and Disannexations

  • Clarifies the process for annexing and disannexing territory to and from the city

Gender Neutral Language and Correction of State Law Cites

  • Makes the charter gender-neutral
  • Corrects obsolete references to state law

Bond for Homeless Assistance Center

  • Authorizes City to issue $23.8M in bonds for the homeless intake assistance center