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Dallas Council Considers $1B Bond Package for 2024 Vote

If approved, residents would vote on their fourth bond program in less than two decades. The $1 billion program would help pay for better streets and city infrastructure, including $150 million for housing.

(TNS) — Dallas voters could be asked to approve a new bond program for the fourth time in less than two decades to pay for better streets and city infrastructure.

City officials presented a draft plan to City Council members Wednesday to get voters in May 2024 to greenlight a $1 billion program, including setting aside $150 million to improve roads and storm drainage in underserved areas in the hopes it’ll attract more affordable housing developers.

The proposal was panned by several council members who noted no money would be devoted toward building more homes, no cash would address neighborhood environmental harms or climate change, and that around $85 million would be focused on fixing existing city buildings with repairs that should be paid for through the general fund.

The city also still has projects waiting for bond dollars that voters approved in 2017, 2012 and 2006. The latest program was for $1.05 billion and the city has earmarked around $870 million for projects as of the end of June.

“I don’t feel like we’re moving the needle here,” said council member Adam Bazaldua, who called the proposal “underwhelming.”

“I feel like we’re just adding more of the same,” he said.

Despite the fact that voters have authorized the sale of up to $3 billion in bonds since 2006, largely for street and transportation improvements, the city still has large funding needs.

Decades of neglect and disinvestment in southern Dallas have left several neighborhoods lagging behind their northern counterparts, with some not even connected to the city’s water and wastewater system. The city is also facing problems with affordable housing for low-income residents, a growing homeless population and poor transportation infrastructure.

Dallas has more than 2,000 miles of missing or broken sidewalks and city officials estimated last year that it would cost $2 billion to repair half that amount. The city also needs $54 million to build curb ramps in sidewalks to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Council members last year voted against asking voters to approve a hastily proposed $300 million bond solely for street and traffic signal improvements.

Under the latest bond proposal, the city would over five years allocate:

  • $325 million for improvements to streets, alleys, bridges and sidewalks.
  • $233.8 million for park and recreation facilities and trails.
  • $150 million for housing infrastructure improvements.
  • $101.9 million for transportation related projects designed to make roads safer, like upgrading traffic signals.
  • $49.9 million to promote economic growth and opportunities around the city.
  • $43.8 million to address flood protection, as well as storm drainage and erosion concerns.
  • $30.6 million for renovations to public safety facilities.
  • $25 million for renovations to unspecified city facilities.
  • $15 million for renovations to library buildings.
  • $15 million for renovations to cultural and performing arts facilities.
  • $10 million to improve existing properties the city has bought to provide homeless services.

The proposal was largely modeled after the 2017 bond program, said Office of Bond and Construction Management Director Adriana Castaneda.

None of the tallies are set in stone and the proposal was only brought “for discussion purposes only,” Castaneda said.

Investing in housing infrastructure improvements is the only difference from the 2017 bond initiatives, replacing plans to rehab 12 buildings in Fair Park. Castaneda suggested the city could devote another $150 million through an additional future bond program for more housing infrastructure fixes.

The 2017 bond package devoted more money in just about every category. For example, the city set aside $20 million to pay for housing for people experiencing homelessness. The city has committed $16 million toward renovating or helping buy hotels to turn into transitional housing and to buy an abandoned hospital.

The money for that initiative largely went unspent until after the COVID pandemic began in 2020.

Castaneda and Assistant City Manager Robert Perez said the city should be 99 percent completed with the 2017 bond program by 2024.

“Everything we have complete control of should be completed by the time this next bond starts,” Perez said.

Jack Ireland, the city’s chief financial officer, said the bond plan assumes the property tax rate will be set at 74.58 cents per $100 valuation and not change. That rate is currently being proposed by City Manager T.C. Broadnax in the latest draft of Dallas’ annual budget, down from the current 77.63 cents rate.

Several council members said they are concerned with the amount of debt the city is taking on, along with plans for an increasing budget with little to no cuts in service.

“Are we maxing out the credit card?” council member Paula Blackmon asked.

Ireland said based on his office’s calculations he didn’t believe there were any issues with another $1 billion bond, but added that it shouldn’t happen anytime before 2024.

“We have to maintain a reasonable balance in the debt service fund in case anything went wrong, but it’s at the capacity that we feel comfortable with,” Ireland said. “So it’s not completely maxed out, but I would never run the fund to zero either.”

Ireland said the city still doesn’t have set plans on how it will spend around $44 million in 2012 bond money and $77 million in 2006 bond money.

The upcoming plan is subject to change, Castaneda said.

An assessment of needs around the city still has to be done as well as getting more input from residents and the council.

She said a list of city needs would be presented to the council in September 2023 and a revised bond program draft sometime that winter. The council could vote as early as February 2024 to put a bond proposal on an election ballot.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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