Cain't Say No

Girls and boys of the city council get "in trouble"

Lively told me: "The city will own this center once it's constructed. We're going to give it to them after negotiating how it should be operated and managed and maintained and governed and all that."

Yeah, I don't care about "all that." I want to know who has to pay. Who pays to run this thing, keep it up, pay the staff and all of that stuff?

Lively said we do. You and I.

"That is the trade-off. We raise over $200 million, probably $225 million when it's all said and done, and we give it to the city, and the city operates it."

Oh, my goodness. They build their playhouse, and then we have to keep it up? How about this? Instead of a $250 million opera house, you folks take the $225 million you are raising, go with a modest little $100 million opera house and put the other $125 million in an endowment to run the place, so that the public won't have to pay for it at all? We're just tossing out ideas here.

But again, it's not the people who ask for money who are to blame for the shortfall. They just want money. They don't have a shortfall. They have a windfall. The people to blame are the ones who give them the money.

This city has enjoyed a solid decade of prosperity. In giving Dallas its highest credit rating, Standard & Poors said recently: "The city of Dallas, one of three Texas cities whose debt is rated 'AAA', remains at the core of one of the premier economic growth centers in the nation. With a population increase of 18 percent from 1990 to 2000, the city is now responsible for serving nearly 1.2 million residents. The tax base has increased substantially, 36 percent, to more than $60 billion, after recovering nicely from real estate declines in the early 1990s."

So why is City Hall so hammered? What's with the shortfall?

I talked to a midlevel city official a few weeks ago at the height of the Hula Hut controversy, with the agreement I would not name him (he's not a high-up person, and he wouldn't talk to me otherwise). I asked him how we could afford to forgive the billionaires all of their property taxes for 20 years, when obviously it will cost us a lot of money for their new buildings to be on the ground during that time.

We have to police them. We have to put out their fires. We have to fix their streets and pipes. The buildings don't just sit there. They cost us lots of money. That's why we pay taxes.

He said that in addition to the property tax we are forgiving them, the new sports/lingerie mall will generate sales tax revenue for the city, which will not be forgiven.

Yeah, but doesn't it take all the sales tax revenue and all the property tax money that we normally collect now from new buildings in order for the city to maintain basic services? He said that was a nebulous concept, and he knew of no way to measure it.

So how about this for a measurement? We can't keep up what we have now. We have billions in deferred maintenance. For the last three years, Greg Mullen, an apartment developer who opposed the Hula Hut giveaway, has been trying to get someone at City Hall to look at his analysis of deferred maintenance in Dallas.

Without going through all the hoops, Mullen's main point is that the city is already going in the hole $287 million a year on the street replacements it is not doing and that this enormous liability is what we are beginning to see with our eyes when we drive down streets like Regal Row.

So why do we give away money? To "create excitement?" Neiman Marcus could create pandemonium if it just peeled all the price tags off stuff and gave it away for free. Life is harder than that.

This will come to a head. By next May when we have city council and mayoral elections and possibly also a bond election for the Reichstag, the lines will be drawn: long-haulers vs. shortfallers.

And this is not to demean those architects. I really do love that idea of a seating area in the roof over the council chamber. "Incoming! Shortfall at 9 o'clock!" I bet Mary, Alan and Ed will have their helmets on.

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