Council Approves Sale of $330M in Bonds to Fund City Projects

Today the Council considered selling $330M in bonds to pay for projects that were approved by voters in the 2006 bond program (and some prior programs).   Bonds are just a way for the city to borrow money to pay for large projects like street improvements, police and fire stations, libraries, major park improvements, and similar infrastructure projects. 

Like any debt, the city has to repay the loan over time.  During the budget debate last fall, I expressed my concern that the city was proposing to borrow too much money, which would have result in paying millions more in debt payment the following year (compared to this year).  The debt repayment comes out of the same pot of money that is used to pay for street maintenance, police, parks, libraries, rec centers, and other basic city services.  If we have to pay more on debt repayment, and no additional tax dollars are coming into the city coffers, then we have to cut services.  Having cut services to the bone this year, it was unpalatable to me to set ourselves up for even deeper service cuts next year, to the extent we could avoid it by borrowing less this year.

I had proposed borrowing less money that still would have allowed us to move forward on many bond projects, but would not have resulted in a larger debt repayment the following year.  Only Councilmember Margolin supported my proposal.  So last fall, I ended up voting against the bond sale because it was too large and would have required the city to spend more money on debt repayment next budget year — money we just don’t and won’t have.

The city manager proposed today that the council formally approve the sale of $330 million in bonds.  I again expressed my concern that we not increase our debt repayment when we won’t have the money to pay for it next year.  City Manager Mary Suhm said that she had heard my concerns and that staff and bond council had figured out a way to restructure the bonds so they will not increase our debt repayment next year; in fact, our “credit card bill” will be reduced by about $600,000.  That may not sound like a great deal of savings, but considering that the previous proposal would have had us spending additional millions, I consider this a good solution.  It will allow us to move forward on the bond projects as planned, while reducing our debt repayment next year.  For this reason, I voted in favor of the bond sale.

Dallas’ Bond Passes!

Last Tuesday, the residents of Dallas overwhelmingly passed all 12 bond propositions, allowing the city to invest $1.35 billion over the next 4 1/2 years to improve our streets, parks, libraries, city police and fire facilities, and other city infrastructure. District 14 turned out the largest number of voters to support the bond.

As we move forward with the 2006 bond, I wanted to address some questions and concerns I’ve heard about city bonds, and also give you an update on the 2003 bond program.

People ask me all the time, “Why isn’t the city finished with the 2003 bond yet?” The 2003 bond was never intended to be completed until next year. The 2003 bond provided for a 4-year bond sale. For financial and practical reasons, we can’t sell all the bonds at once; the market wouldn’t bear it, and we couldn’t find enough contractors to build all of the projects at once. So about a quarter of the bonds are sold every year over four years. Each year, the city takes the money from that year’s bond sale and undertakes bond projects.

As of today, 90% of the 2003 bond projects for which bonds have been sold are either completed or on schedule. The 2006 bonds will be sold over 4 1/2 years, starting in May, then every November after that for four years.

Another concern I’ve heard is that “The city does whatever it wants with the bond money; what you’re voting for isn’t really what you get.”

I want to assure you that Dallas will get what it voted for, and that each and every dollar of the $1.35 bond package is allocated to a particular project. The projects are highly detailed. For example: Street Resurfacing: Abrams Rd. – Crestmont Dr. to Fisher Rd. $89,852. You can see all the projects at the city’s website at www.dallascityhall.com.

The city does have the ability to reallocate funds within a bond proposition. For example, funds from one library project could be reallocated to another library project. The city couldn’t spend the money on a different proposition, like parks or streets.

HOWEVER, the city rarely reallocates bond funds. Of the 1500 projects from the 2003 bond only THIRTEEN have been reallocated. That’s less than 1%. Why were these funds reallocated? Sometimes grant money, or state or federal funds, were secured to fund the project. Other times, a neighborhood decided against a specific project that they had petitioned for. So Dallas taxpayers can feel secure that they will get the projects they voted for.

Why You Should Vote For the 2006 Bond

On November 7, Dallas residents will have the opportunity to vote on a $1.35 bond package. I encourage you to support all 12 bond propositions.

First, a little explanation about the bond. What is a city bond program, anyway? It’s a lot like a home improvement loan for a house. It lets the city undertake large-scale improvements to city streets, parks, libraries, buildings, and other infrastructure that the city wouldn’t be able to do with its annual budget.

Why do we need to do a bond?
The city has about $9.5 billion worth of improvements listed on its “needs inventory.” The inventory is a like if you were to make a list of all the things you need to do to fix your house: fix the crack in the ceiling in the kitchen, repair the faucet in the bathroom, lay new carpet in the living room. The city likewise keeps a running list of all the things it needs to fix or build new. The list is continually updated as new needs are identified, and each project is listed with its price tag. Take a look at Dallas’ needs inventory.

With $9.5 billion in needs, the city needs to undertake regular bond programs (every four years or so) to address these projects. Please take a look at the needs inventory to get an idea of how the city keeps track of its needs.

How was the bond program put together?
The City Manager and her staff put together a list of bond projects based on the needs inventory. The council and city staff then presented this bond proposal to city residents at more than 60 townhall meetings. The Council then added and deleted projects based on feedback from residents. For example, in District 14, I added about $3.2 million based on your feedback, and deleted about $325k. You can see each project added or deleted here.

The purpose of the bond is two-fold. First, protect and maintain what we’ve already built and invested in. Major maintenance, like replacing a roof or an HVAC system, can be done with the bond.

Second, invest in our future. Use some of the bond money to strategically invest in infrastructure in areas where we’re trying to encourage new business development. This will help increase and expand our tax base.

Is there anything bond money CAN’T be used for?
We can’t use bond money to pay for personnel salaries (that’s why we can’t use it to hire more police), or to fund items that won’t last the lifetime of the bond, generally 20 years. So we can’t buy police cars or library books.

What about the 2003 bond?
People ask me all the time about the 2003 bond. I’m pleased to report that we’re about 75% through with that bond program. Next year will be the final year of the 2003 bond projects and we’ll finish the other 25%. Of the bonds issued to date, 90% of the projects are either completed or on schedule.

For legal reasons, the bond program is divided up into 12 specific bond propositions. Here’s a breakdown:

PROP. 1: Streets and Transportation ($390M)
PROP. 2: Flood Protection and Storm Drainage ($334m)
PROP. 3: Park and Recreation Facilities ($343m)
PROP. 4: Library Facilities ($46M)
PROP. 5: Cultural Arts Facilities ($61M)
PROP. 6: City Hall, City Service and Maintenance Facilities ($35M)
PROP. 7: Land Acquisition under the Land Bank Program($1.5)
PROP. 8: Economic Development ($41M)
PROP. 9: Farmers Market ($6.6M)
PROP. 10: Land Acquisition in the Cadillac Heights Area for Future City Facilities ($23M)
PROP. 11: Court Facilities ($8M)
PROP. 12: Public Safety Facilities ($63M)
Total: $1,35B

Each and every one of the projects within each proposition is listed in the bond project list (by proposition). You can also view the list by council district. If you’re looking at the list by council district, note that District 14 also has a lot of projects listed under “City Wide” or “CW,” which are those projects not attributed to a single council district, such as projects in Downtown Dallas.

There seems to be a general suspicion from some folks about the city undertaking a bond program — that there will be a bait-and-switch on the projects, and that the things you voted for won’t really happen, but instead, you’ll see another shiny Calatrava Bridge. I think there are a number of reasons for that suspicion, one of them being a general sense that the 1998 Trinity River bond program was supposed to be about the park, but was instead about a tollroad.

I don’t discount healthy suspicion about government. I carry around a lot of it myself. But I do think it’s important to look at the facts, and then make a decision. So I asked the city manager’s office how many projects from the 2003 bond had been changed from the list presented to residents before the vote. Without researching this extensively, the city manager’s office told me that changes or deletions of projects are very rare, and each and every change is approved by the city council.

One District 14 resident recently suggested that the council hold special council meetings to make project changes and hear public input, and I passed along this suggestion to the city manager’s office. This would certainly promote transparency, and hopefully engender more trust in the process.

As it stands, I’m very proud of this bond program. I think it’s a good “meat and potatoes” bond that will address important infrastructure needs of our city.

Please join me in voting for each bond proposition on November 7.

Council Adds to Bond Package

Yesterday, the Council added about $70 million to the city manager’s proposed $1.28 billion bond package. After getting community input on the manager’s recommended package, I made the following changes to projects in District 14:

Add: Turtle Creek effluence capture system
This will help keep trash from coming into Turtle Creek. Trash that goes into our storm drains near Turtle Creek goes right into the creek. This system would catch the trash before it gets to the creek, and would be a pilot program for 6 of 43 interceptors.
$700,000
Add: Katy Trail ADA ramp/staircase
This will make the Katy Trail accessible to all users. The proposed funding would also qualify the project for a sustainable development grant.
$460,000
Add: Cole Park improvements
Cole Park is a highly used park in Uptown, but improvements to this park did not make it into the manager’s recommended bond program. Residents had expressed a desire to improve this park, so we will be making improvements based on the park master plan.
$200,000
Add: Greenville Ave. lighting and pedestrian improvements
Due to ongoing problems on Lower Greenville, the recent violence, and the fire that destroyed one of the historic blocks, we need to find ways to make the area safer for residents and patrons as well as more attractive to retail businesses. These funds will address lighting and other pedestrian improvements along Lower Greenville, between Belmont and Ross.
$818,000
Add: Twin Sixties/Yale Blvd. lighting and pedestrian improvements
These are pedestrian and lighting improvements near Mockingbird Station. There are two new developments planned to transform the industrial businesses into transit-oriented, dense residential use. We have a good opportunity to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment with wider sidewalks, attractive medians, and street lighting.
$271,000
$536,000
$230,000
Alley improvements
During my Neighborhood Listening Sessions, many residents expressed a desire for the city to pave their unpaved alleys. The City’s policy is to share the cost of alley paving after residents have submitted a petition request. These funds would allow District 14 residents to have their alleys paved after submitting a petition.
$400,000
Street improvements:
Several streets that did not make the manager’s proposed program, but which were listed in the need inventory as some of the streets needing real improvement:
Elsby Ave – Lover Lane to Catawha (4500 blk)
Hyer St – Lomo Alto to Dead End
Purdue Ave – Chadbourne Rd to Devonshire Dr. (5400-5600 blk)
$87,000
$72,000
$121,000
Delete – Converting Browder St. to Vehicular traffic
Browder St. is a small side street in Downtown between Commerce and Jackson that residents had been enjoying as a plaza/park. Right now, it is pedestrian only. The manager’s proposal would have funded opening the street to cars and making it two-way. There was overwhelming support from residents to keep this a pedestrian area, so we’re going to do so.
-$323,667
TOTAL $3,571,333

See all proposed amendments.

Bond Meetings – Please give me your input!

Please plan on attending one of the following bond townhall meetings to discuss the city’s proposed $1.28B bond package. Last night, we had a good bond meeting discussion, one of three I’ll be holding for District 14 residents. You can find a copy of the proposed bond programs in my previous blog.

Bond meetings:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 6:30 pm
St. Thomas Aquinas School
3741 Abrams Road 75214
Districts 9 & 14 – Gary Griffith & Angela Hunt

Thursday, June 8, 2006 6:30 pm
Samuell-Grand Recreation Center
6200 East Grand Avenue
Districts 2 & 14 – Pauline Medrano & Angela Hunt

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 6:30 pm
Grauwyler Recreation Center
7780 Harry Hines Boulevard
Districts 2 & 14 – Pauline Medrano & Angela Hunt

Proposed 2006 Bond

After several months of townhall meetings and council input, the City Manager presented her proposed bond package to the Council today.

The package total $1.28 billion and the primary objectives are to improve our streets, flood protection and storm drainage, maintain buildings, and enhance public safety. Our other objective is to strategically invest in projects that promote tax growth and support catalyst projects.

Here’s the general breakdown of the proposal:

Streets and Transportation $365,319,359 28%
Flood Protection and Storm Drainage $334,623,816 26%
Park and Recreation Facilities $307,618,245 24%
Economic Development, Housing and Tourism
(Farmers’ Market and Union Station)
$45,215,997 4%
Police, Fire, and Courts Facilities $94,564,838 7%
Cultural Arts Facilities $60,407,189 5%
Library Facilities $43,673,402 3%
City Service and Maintenance Facilities $30,797,556 2%
TOTAL $1,282,220,402 100%

Of this, the larger, citywide items include the Cotton Bowl, Fair Park, city theater in the Arts District, Inland Port, Woodall Rogers Park, Downtown parks, Arboretum, trails, and others.

Improvements important to District 14 include flood control along Inwood, Trinity River sump improvements (that’ll help prevent flooding in the west part of our district), flood control and storm water improvements for the M Streets and Lower Greenville areas that were most affected by the flood, the much-needed Mill Creek project for East Dallas, and a flood relief system for Uptown.

Other District 14 projects include Katy Trail improvements (the Katy Trail extension to White Rock lake and construction of the Santa Fe Trail are already paid for), neighborhood park improvements, and Turtle Creek improvements.

There are numerous recommendations for street and other infrastructure improvements.

I urge you to PLEASE review the bond package and email me at angela.hunt@dallascityhall.com with your opinion and suggestions.

I am having three townhall meetings to discuss this proposed package:

Tuesday, May 30th 6:30 p.m.
St. Thomas Aquinas
6306 Kenwood
Joint with Councilmember Griffith

Thursday, June 8th, 6:30 p.m.
Samuel Grand Rec. Center
6200 East Grand
Joint with Councilmember Medrano

Tuesday, June 13th, 6:30 p.m.
Grauwyler Rec. Center
7780 Harry Hines
Joint with Councilmember Medrano

Most residents at my townhall meetings supported paying a tax increase to support a $1.5B bond. We also need to fund additional police officers to make our city safer. To get more cops, we’ll have to pay for them. That will require some kind of tax increase. So in addition to the bond, we’ll have to increase taxes to get more cops in the future.

As the bond package was being put together, I thought that it would make sense to do a smaller bond package at a smaller tax increase, and then a separte tax increase for more police. The City Manager appeared to have had the same idea, and provided a smaller (albeit large) bond package, with a clear explanation of additional property tax increases that will be required to hire more police. I like that kind of transparency.

On the issue of discretionary funds: I don’t think it’s a good idea. Residents have shared with me their concerns that the Council will not be responsible with discretionary funds. Given the allegations of corruption, millions in uncollected parking fines, improper accounting, etc., I understand there is a perception that City Hall is not fiscally responsible. I believe City Hall needs to earn residents’ trust before asking for this type of discretion.

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.