By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
You with me? If it costs $12.32 million to run the new park, and if all that money is going to come from property taxes along the river, and if the properties along the river are going to pay the same taxes as the rest of us, then those new properties are going to have to be worth about half the total worth today of the entire tax roll.
But guess what? They're not going to pay the same taxes everybody else pays. The city is hard at work even as we speak setting up all of these special tax giveaway districts along the river—TIFs and PIDs and whatever—designed to give all or most of the tax revenue from the new properties back to the developers.
They're not going to be paying squat for the park. And when I wonder who will be paying, what do I do? I go look at that dashing dude in the mirror. What a guy!
And guess what else? No one has any idea what that $10.5 million figure in 2003 dollars even means, because nobody has any idea how big the park will be. Jordan, possibly not being snippy but I doubt it, sent me a link to the city's PowerPoint on operations and maintenance costs, a document which, she pointed out, "is clearly labeled on the Web site."
So I went to her document. It describes the park as being 700 acres in size. But it also says the Great Trinity Forest, described to voters as part of the park, will be 2,700 acres. But on another page it describes the forest as being 3,500 acres. The Morning News has described it as 6,000 acres.
OK, take the Great Trinity Forest out of it. Forget the Great Trinity Forest. Zap! No forest. Let's only talk about the downtown portion of the park as delineated in a detailed map in a March 9, 2005, "Final Report" on the project prepared for the city by its contractor, HNTB Corp.
I took that map. I took those boundaries. I went to the Web pages of the Dallas Central Appraisal District, where they have this wonderful little thing called "Measure." You click on it, and it measures. I measured the exact same area the HNTB report shows as the downtown portion of the park. Three times. From different angles and starting points. Came out exactly the same each time.
It was 1,872 acres. Not 700 acres like they said, but 1,872 acres.
The city's Web pages say they estimated the cost of maintaining the park on a per acre basis. So let's say they goofed. It's not 700 acres. It's 1,872 acres. So the park is 267 percent bigger than they thought it would be. On a per acre basis, that means the cost should be 267 percent what they thought it would be. So if that's going to be paid for by the growth in the tax base along the river, the growth needs to be 267 percent what they thought it needed to be. Assuming they thought.
So we need to more or less build an entire second city along the river in order to pay for the park. I suggest the outcome will be something other than that.
So I'm here at my desk. Got this gigantic headache. Trying to remember if I embarrassed myself at that committee meeting. And all I can think is this. This is how it all happens.
Look. The total tax base of this city has increased by 47 percent in the last 10 years. In 1999 it was $55.9 billion. This year it's $82.1 billion.
That's great. It's marvelous. It means we're a going concern. But think about this. We are slashing what we pay to run the Park Department by 15 percent this year, because we're broke. We can't mow the grass on the medians. Or water the plants. Or fix the potholes.
How can that be, when our net worth has increased by almost half in 10 years? Could it have anything to do with not having the slightest idea how much anything is going to cost us? But muddling on into it anyway?
One last calculation. Net worth of city goes up 47 percent in 10 years. Park department budget goes down 15 percent in one year. New park is 267 percent bigger than we thought, 267 percent more expensive to maintain. So for new growth along river to make Park department go up, not down, growth must be...
Man. I've got this powerful hankering for another PowerPoint.