The Dallas City Council is meeting this morning to decide how it wants to divide a last-minute, $329,000 windfall in the form of additional franchise fees from Oncor. In the context of the a $2.57-billion budget, it's peanuts, but it offers council members a way to fund their own pet projects, many of which have been gutted during the past several years.
Sheffie Kadane wanted to put the money toward libraries, extending their closing time from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday evenings. Jerry Allen wanted to put $200,000 into a free tax preparation program to help claim the earned income tax credit. Vonciel Jones Hill said $10,000 should go to the African American Museum in Fair Park. Several members joined together to request money for Dallas Summer Musicals and the Office of Cultural Affairs.
The most widespread support was for restoring hours to pools. Councilwomen Carolyn Davis and Monica Alonzo led the push to divert $220,000 to keep five locations -- Samuell Grand, H.R. Moore, Bonnie View, Glendale, and Exline -- open for five days per week instead of just two.
"That is totally unfair," Davis said of budget cuts that disproportionately affected hours of operation at pools in Dallas "where kids tend to come out more and swim in the summertime.
Alonzo recounted a time kids were caught jumping the fence to swim in a closed city pool in her district.
"Why I am so passionate, myself, in this is ... not only do we not have more access to the pools, we don't have the rec centers, they're not open," she said. "Where else can they go? What else can they do?"
The problem at those pools was that fewer kids were going there, said Park and Rec director Paul Dyer. That's why their hours were reduced when it came time to cut the budget.
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There was some talk about attracting more swimmers through swim teams and outreach programs, at which point Mayor Mike Rawlings jumped in.
"The reason people aren't in those pools is they're old-style pools," Rawlings said. "They're bad products."
Of course, doing something about that would take a lot more than $329,000, so it will have to wait for a later day.
In the end, the council allocated $211,000 to pools, $50,000 to the Office of Cultural Affairs, $10,000 to the African American Museum, $48,000 to Dallas Summer Musicals, and the $10,000 to the tax prep program.