I’ve made a mistake. I have been exchanging e-mails with Frank Librio, the director of the city's Public Information Office, concerning the $1.54 million that has been added to the cost of an environmental impact study of the Trinity River Toll Road.
Librio wrote me: “The funds came from the City's $84 million and DID NOT increase the City's obligation to them. The City's financial commitment will not increase. Any increase in cost -- due to fluctuations in material costs -- will not be the financial responsibility of the City and its taxpayers.”
I wrote back to him, accusing him of using funny math. I said: “Look at it this way. The road costs $100. The city puts in $10. Now the city is being asked to put in an additional $1.54. Frank, even by Mayor Leppert's arithmetic, that's going to come out to $11.54. Not $10. Or are we not in Kansas any more?”
Librio wrote back to me, saying that I was mistaking the process of budgeting money for the process of authorizing an expenditure. I think he has a point. Still ...
He said: “You don’t understand the difference between ‘budgeted’ and ‘authorized by Council’. Council must approve or authorize the actual expenditure of budgeted bond funds. We have an inter-local agreement with the NTTA committing to them that we have budgeted and available for use $84 million, but Council has not authorized the release of all of those funds. The City Council must authorize the release as the funds are needed, not all at one time.”
Librio is right enough about this that I should not have been sarcastic in my first response, describing his math. For that, I apologize.
But, wait. There is still a much larger point here that shouldn’t be lost. In Librio’s first response, there is what may be a sly caveat. He says the city will not have to bear any increase in cost that is “due to fluctuations in material costs.”
But throughout his campaign for mayor, Tom Leppert insisted that he had an ironclad deal with the tollway authority. He said he had “looked them in the eye” and he was “very comfortable” that they would never ask Dallas taxpayers for new money on top of the $84 million Dallas pledged to the project from its 1998 bond program.
No new money for anything, materials and otherwise, excepting, presumably, a major scope change requested by the city. No more money for what already had been agreed upon.
Right after the election, we learned that The Dallas Morning News had been sitting on a very important story. Weeks before the vote the chairman of the tollway authority had told a News reporter that his agency might well ask Dallas to pay a higher price for the road. In other words, Leppert’s look-them-in-the-eye deal had been a fiction. The News chose not to publish this story until the morning after the votes had been counted and the toll road approved.
Two weeks ago when the NTTA announced it was going to ask Dallas to pay $1.54 million more for the environmental impact study, the reasons for the increase, as presented in a News story, were new demands from the U.S. Corps of Engineers and ongoing “political problems.” What that smells like is exactly what we have predicted in the paper version of Unfair Park for 10 years: The absurdity of building a major highway inside an urban floodway is driving costs through the roof and, hopefully, after enough money and time have been wasted, these costs will make the project impossible to build.
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As usual, the voice of reality on the issue of the impact study has been Dallas city council member Angela Hunt, who has pointed out that the real increase in the cost of the environmental impact study has been $5 million -- a 100 percent increase to a total of $10 million from what was supposed to have been a $5 million cost five years ago.
The costs are soaring. The cost of the impact study is the smoke that tells us there is fire. The tollway authority has already warned that it will hit up the city for more money at some point.
If I am wrong about this, then the mayor has an easy way to make me eat my hat. All he has to do is make a clear public declaration that he meant what he said when he was running for office and that he will never agree to any deal by which the City of Dallas is asked to put more money into this deal than $84 million pledged in 1998, for anything, materials or anything else. Stick to the $84 million hard and fast, Mr. Leppert, and you’ve made a fool of me.
In the meantime, Librio makes a good point about authorizations and budgets, and I apologize again for my tone in my message to him and in the subsequent post on this blog. --Jim Schutze