In December of 2017 at the winter council retreat, our Police Department brought us bad news. Our evidence room (which is older than I am) was no longer meeting our needs. Specifically, it was at capacity and no longer met some of the new legal mandates in regards to climate control and storage duration. We were warned that if we did not remedy the situation then the Dallas County District Attorney would eventually stop accepting our cases.
The path forward was clear:
1) Look at our stock of municipal buildings and see if we can reuse existing space
2) Look at building a new space
Staff did the legwork prior to bringing us to the issue and said that we needed to pursue building a new space. I examined our current stock of buildings and found that I agreed. The max cost quoted to us at that meeting was $20M. That’s an amount that is well outside of the amount that you can easily cash fund as a city. It’s also an amount that exceeds our right to spend without first bringing it to the voters for approval. Thus, we opened up the pandora’s box that is a municipal bond discussion.
Council gave staff unanimous consent to go ahead and find a group to handle public engagement, pricing, and other technical details of bond items. In May 2018 council voted to approve a contract to Kimley-Horn for $200k for a team of five people to put in 3-6 months worth of work each to get us from start to finish. At roughly 2.5 to 3 man-years of public engagement and engineering work, I felt that the $200k was a reasonable amount.
This month we began the process of talking to the public about bond items, our current financial position, how a bond election would work, and we started soliciting feedback on the proposal.
The next step will be the appointment of a bond committee. This 19-member group (2 people per council member, 3 for the mayor) will be a working group that meets 2 to 4 times a month from now through December. Their job will be to work through all of the wish list items for the bond from both a technical and financial perspective. They will work with Kimley-Horn to get accurate scope and pricing for buildings and projects. All of their work will be public, with citizen participation welcome at every stage.
In January 2019, the city council will receive a proposal from the bond committee. The committee may recommend anything from $0 to our maximum allowable spending limit (5% of the AV tax value of the city). The city council will then consider the proposal, again with multiple public hearings.
In February 2019, the city council will need to either call for a bond election or not. We will consider every identified need, every funding option, the priorities for the city, and our capacity to realistically deliver proposed projects within a reasonable amount of time.
If there is a bond election, starting in late March (mail-in ballots) through election day in May of 2019, voters will have the final say.
In the coming weeks I will be announcing a series of dates where I’ll be at a public location and available to talk about the bond and upcoming annual budget. I have a town hall coming up in October for a more formal presentation- date/time TBD. We have time set aside for citizen comments at the end of every council meeting. Even if the bond discussion isn’t on the agenda, you have a right to come down and speak to us about it. You also have my contact information for email, phone, and facebook.
As it was existing business of the 2017-2018 council, the Kimley-Horn contract was voted on prior to the new council taking office in May 2018. No member of either the prior council or the current sitting council has expressed an interest in stopping the discovery and engagement process, myself included. Those at my April 2018 town hall meeting may remember that I brought up the issue in regards to the animal shelter and the cost of replacement, and I heard no opposition then from any member of the audience. We did discuss pursuing grant money and donations to help defray costs, but I suggested budgeting the full cost of an item in a bond proposal in order to improve transparency to the voters about the real cost of these projects, and to guarantee full funding of approved items.
With a bond discussion, politics are inevitable. For those that have watched me work over the past year, you know that I work transparently. I keep my campaign finances on my website. I explain the reason behind every vote. My town hall presentations not only go into what we have accomplished, but we talk about the mistakes that I’ve made. I continually press for more public input and free discussion. It takes a great deal of effort to track and provide all of this information, but I believe that it is time well-spent.
It’s important to me that the public has access to council members and that they have the final say in how their money is managed. I am proud of the path the city has taken in how we’ve announced this bond discussion, how we are continually engaging the public, and how the public has impactful input at every single step. If the council proposes a bond, then the taxpayers will also have the final say during the same year as a mayoral election (where turnout is traditionally higher). Everything in our process is designed to maximize the power of your voice. If there’s a way we can do this better, I want to hear about it. It’s your money, your city, and ultimately we serve at your pleasure. Neither I nor the rest of the council have either the time or inclination to engage in conspiracies to somehow force a bond election on you. I’ll continue to share information with you so that we can decide if a bond is necessary to build the things that we need.
Over the next few weeks I will roll out a few additional blog posts regarding items that are being discussed for possible bond inclusion. I’ll take a deeper dive into the city’s finances, the ups and downs of the 2004 bond, our current debt, our capacity to cash fund projects, and the real costs of debt financing.
As always, I am humbled and honored by the privilege to serve district 8. Any questions or comments, feel free to reach out.