By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
I'm putting a mental magnet note on the refrigerator door of my mind: "Jim: Very large rail yards are not delivered by the stork."
Got it. OK, then. What else do we have here on the list of Jim Schutze boo-boos? Oh, the Texas Horse Park. Yeah. Let's get that one off the books, too, while we're at it. If I sounded at all grudging before about admitting I had made a mistake, prepare to hear grudging given a whole new meaning.
In a column called "Check the Bill," published October 5, I complained that the 2006 bond package we will be asked to vote for in the November 7 election contains a whole lot of hidden money intended for the controversial Trinity River project. I said the city had slipped about $120 million into the bond proposals, tucked away here and there in the overall $1.28 billion program, without telling us we were being asked to boost the budget for the river project by almost 50 percent.
In the process of kvetching, I said the 2006 bond program included, for example, "$14 million to help some people set up a private horse park near the river."
So about this I heard from a friend, Diane Pitts, a lawyer and horse person who has been active in helping organize the "Texas Horse Park," a public-private venture planned for southern Dallas, where backers hope to build a $30 million equestrian center.
Pitts gave me chapter and verse on the enormous amount of community outreach the center will support, including one or more of the many nationally established horse programs for troubled kids. She said it also promises to become a premier destination for horse persons such as herself (she has one of those trailers you and your kids and your horse can live in, and this is supposed to be fun, even though I thought our forebears rode the oceans here from foreign lands to escape just such conditions).
Half the money will come from the city. That contribution will be a little better than evenly matched with private money. The center will be run by a nonprofit. And she and the people promoting it swear it will be self-supporting.
All to the good. I don't see how it can be bad.
And now for the grudge, which has nothing to do with the horse persons. I just want to point out that in 2003 after Mayor Laura Miller led an effort to redesign the Trinity River project, we were told the "equestrian center" in the river project would be paid for entirely out of the 1998 bond funds at a cost of $1.72 million.
Pitts told me the amount the city was talking about wouldn't have been anywhere near enough to create a self-supporting facility that would not need operating and maintenance funds from the city. I'll take her word for that. It's still my point that the budget for the Trinity project is all over the map, and the city keeps trying to slip more money into it here and there without being straight with us.
Case in point: When I asked her about it, Rebecca Dugger, director of the Trinity project, admitted to $50 million in Trinity-related items in the upcoming bond issue. Last week I came across testimony Dugger had given September 15 in a state hearing on a utility issue in which she was asked what the funding sources were for the project.
Dugger dutifully listed the sources from the 1998 bond money. Then she testified, "In addition, I anticipate that the voters will consider approval of projects [mostly flood and street improvement projects] in an approximate amount of $200 million in a bond election on November 7, 2006. These projects are in addition to the budget above."
Oh, so it's not $50 million more in bond money for the Trinity in the 2006 bond package. It's not even the $120 million I said I suspected was there. It's more like $200 million.
Dugger told me the $200 million was not all for the Trinity River project, in spite of her testimony. She said only part of it was. Maybe some lawyer needs to revisit that part for clarification.
Like I said, I'm not blaming the horse persons. Their project sounds worthy. If anything, everything I know about City Hall makes me think it's a great idea to have someone other than City Hall run the horse park.
Here's my grudge. I may be wrong some of the time. I may be wrong about some stuff. But I don't think I'm wrong about City Hall.