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After City Approves More Than $1 Billion in Bond Funding for South Dallas, Task Force Finds Ways to Spend Another $100 Million

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Several members of the Mayor's Southern Dallas Task Force packed the city council chambers Tuesday afternoon as they unveiled plans to revitalize 10 areas of South Dallas. The task force, consisting of approximately 250 folks split into 13 groups, recommended the city include a minimum of $100 million in the 2010 bond package to help alleviate infrastructure deficiencies and provide funding to "respond to the immediate needs of the marketplace."

The plans also call for increasing the public/private partnership funding from the city's annual operating budget, re-branding Pleasant Grove, creating a Trinity River Recreation District and Dallas Economic Development Corporation, building a "hike and bike" trail in Mountain Creek, enhancing shopping centers and implementing urban design studies and new zoning.

Mayor Tom Leppert said the plans are "important to move the city forward," while acknowledging that moving quickly will prove difficult. A lot has happened since the task force began working 10 months ago, Leppert said, such as "credit meltdowns" and the international banking crisis.

"The economic situation that we see today is going to slow it down, and that's the reality of it," he said.

The mayor attributed the 24 percent crime reduction in South Central Dallas to more resources and strategically placing those resources, which is what he sees as the game plan to spur economic development. He anticipates a $485 million investment in South Dallas in the next couple years, citing the recent opening of a Save-A-Lot as an example.

Karl Zavitkovsky, director of the city's office of economic development, said the number of people "willing to go the distance" on this effort is impressive, and the plan aims to generate more tax base so residents don't see a tax increase.

"It's all about creating jobs," he added. "It's all about creating a better quality of life for our residents."

A lengthy PowerPoint presentation followed, complete with a video touting Pleasant Grove's new logo. In the introduction of a binder handed out at the meeting, it notes that the city put $1.026 billion for South Dallas in the 1998, 2003 and 2006 bond programs, with 70 percent of the '06 bonds dedicated to improvements in the area.

That's over a billion dollars of debt approved in an eight-year timeframe, yet the city spent 10 months to come up with a plan requiring at least another $100 million next year.

The city faces a $190 million budget crisis in part because it's paying interest and principle payments on outstanding bond issuances. Everyone would agree that South Dallas needs a boost, but why not see what happens after a billion bucks has been spent?

Would the city have been better served by spending 10 months making sure South Dallas gets the most out of its billion dollars before coming up with ways to spend more money the city doesn't have? Discuss.

Update at 11:30 a.m. Friday: In response to our inquiry, Danielle McClelland, assistant director of the city's Public Information Office, tells us that no city staff time was tracked for this because only Lee McKinney of the Office of Economic Development was involved -- serving just as a liaison.

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