Cutting the City Council Budget

With the severe cuts needed to balance our city budget, every department will have to make sacrifices. That includes the budget for the Mayor and City Council offices. The question is, what cuts will produce the greatest savings while minimizing any reduction in service to our constituents?

Right before council recess, the Mayor charged Councilmember Jerry Allen with developing proposed cuts to our council budget. Councilmember Allen has been working hard to gather a consensus among the council, but it’s been difficult to do so during the council recess.

Each councilmember represents 90,000 residents. We each have two staff members: a secretary and an assistant. Each office gets hundreds of phone calls, emails, and letters requesting assistance with city issues. Our secretaries and assistants help us respond to those requests.

With a goal of reducing our budget by nearly $500,000, Councilmember Allen has proposed cutting half our secretaries. However, with the significant cuts in many city services, the council is going to see an increase in constituent phone calls and service requests, and the proposal to eliminate half the secretaries will, in my opinion, reduce our ability to respond to residents.

We can obtain nearly the same savings, without eliminating secretaries, by making the following cuts:

Reduce individual council office budgets by at least 30%
Savings: $188,160

Eliminate photocopying agenda materials (use online agenda)
Savings: $148,000

Eliminate Meals for Mayor and Council
Savings: $32,334

Eliminate Mayor and Council travel budget
Savings: $60,000

Eliminate fleet fuel and lube (unclear what this is for)
Savings: $10,262

Eliminate 1 of 3 photocopiers
Savings: $6,744

Eliminate hand-delivery of council packets to Mayor and Council homes
Savings: $6,024

Eliminate hard copies of interoffice memoranda to Mayor and Council (email memos)
Savings: $5,850

TOTAL SAVINGS: $457,374

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Council Committee Assignments

While I was hesitant to post a note about this, I have received many emails and messages today about being the only councilmember that the mayor didn’t appoint as chair or vice chair of a standing council committee.  I am writing to say this:

Nobody cares.

Here’s what I mean:  Despite the emails and messages I’ve gotten (which I appreciate), the fact is, 99% of my district couldn’t care less who the council committee chairs are.  They care about how the city’s going to handle this budget crisis, what we’re doing to lower crime, how we’ll fix code and repair our streets.  They worry about cuts to our libraries and parks and senior services.  The very last thing they are concerned about is council committee assignments, and their priorities are my priorities. To that end, I’m going to keep focusing on the issues that matter.

I’m proud to have been reappointed chair of the Ad Hoc Judiciary Committee.  Since being appointed last year, our committee has examined our court system from top to bottom for the first time in more than twenty years.  Rather than serving as a rubber stamp to judicial appointments (as the committee had in the past), we took this as an opportunity to closely examine the systemic problems that plague our courts, with each committee member touring our courts and visiting with the various departments that make up our court system.  The committee has met regularly with judges, court administrators, police officers, and prosecutors to better understand why our courts are losing money.  We’ve worked diligently to learn about our judiciary, its faults and inefficiencies, and our efforts have paid off:  Over the last ten months, we’ve initiated and completed a thorough efficiency study that will save our city millions of taxpayer dollars and fix a broken system. Those are the types of results that Dallas residents care about, and that’s what I’m going to stay focused on.

Statler-Hilton Tour

I’m not a huge fan of mid-century modern architecture.  It’s always seemed a little kitschy and plain to me.  The traditionally-designed Adolphus, the Magnolia, the Kirby, those buildings have style and class to spare.  But I’ve gotta say, mid-century modern is growing on me.  It’s still not my favorite, but I’m starting to appreciate the clean lines and blocks of color.  It’s something.  It’s the Jetson’s vision of the future made real (only without the jet-packs, air-cars, or robots, unfortunately).

The Statler Hilton (aka, Dallas Grand) is the quintessential mid-century modern building, with its blue glass paneled facade and Sinatra lounges.  Last week, I toured the building with Karl Zavitkovsky, Director of Economic Development for the city, and the style grew on me a little more.

As you’ll see in the pictures, the building needs some love.  But it has great bones and lots of cool mid-century flourishes.  I don’t know the structural integrity of the building, what it’d cost to do asbestos abatement, HVAC expenses, etc.  But aesthetically, the Statler’s no worse off than the Merc or Atmos buildings.  And the view is amazing.

I’ve heard again and again from developers that the eight foot ceilings are the killers — they’re just too low for today’s marketplace.  But the configuration of the rooms, combined with the wall of windows, make the ceilings seem higher than eight feet, and the rooms don’t feel small or cramped at all.

Imagine Main Street Garden is done, the UNT Law School has moved into the municipal courts building, and the modern streetcar is up and running on Commerce (with its mate on Elm).  The Statler could be one of the coolest addresses in Downtown.

(And I didn’t wear the cool headgear throughout the tour — only in the stairwells and basement where it was dusty and/or smelly.)

Santa Fe Trail Officially Opens

Nancy Visser with the Dallas Morning News provides an update on a great new amenity in East Dallas: “Santa Fe Trail Opens in East Dallas with Legwork to Come.”

The city laid the groundwork by building the trail, but like the Katy Trail, it’ll be the friends groups that take the Santa Fe Trail to the next level. The surrounding community, the Santa Fe Trail Neighborhood Association and Crime Watch, and the Friends of the Santa Fe Trail are working together to make this a clean, safe trail. My hat’s off to them for adopting this new trail to make it a great asset for East Dallas.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep pushing the city to put in stop lights/signs for traffic at Beacon and other major streets. Right now, there are no stop signs for cars, but there ARE stop signs for trail users, if you can believe that. I’ve never seen an SUV hit by a pedestrian, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Trinity Toll Road Update

Just a few updates on the Trinity Toll Road, for those playing along at home:

First up, excerpts from Michael Lindenberger’s article in the Dallas Morning News, “U.S. postpones decision on Trinity toll road to evaluate levee problems”:

Problems with the Trinity River levees have prompted the Federal Highway Administration to postpone a decision about where to build the controversial Trinity toll road….The agency will take until April or May reviewing how the levees’ problems could affect the toll road’s cost or environmental impact….On the toll road, [FHWA Texas Division Chief Janice] Brown said, the FHWA will weigh any additional costs associated with putting the road between the levees when it issues its final decision….”Additional costs will be a factor,” Brown said. “But we don’t yet know how much more the road will cost as a result of the levees.” If costs for building the road between the levees become too high, that could prompt the agency to order the route changed or cancel it altogether.

The FHWA’s new study comes after the agency spent years evaluating the toll road’s alternative routes as part of its draft environmental impact statement….

Once the new report is issued, the FHWA will open a period of public comment – a lengthy process that requires the agency and its partners, including the North Texas Tollway Authority, to respond to every comment related to the proposed toll road. Such responses can take months, or longer, depending on their volume and complexity. Continue reading