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City Council Learns of Consequences to Streets When They Delayed Bond Vote

Two weeks ago, a 9-5 straw vote by the Dallas City Council pushed back the city's long-awaited May bond election. Thanks to a variety of factors — Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings cited the unwillingness of those who "write the big checks" to do so for a May bond election while Council member Lee Kleinman stressed his fiscal conservatism — the city's next bond program has been postponed indefinitely, along with the street improvements it was supposed to pay for.

Beyond anything that might have been added to the bond proposal, some $27 million of the $800 million set to be raised was planned for in the city's 2017 budget. The budget only had enough money in it to keep the city's streets from deteriorating, not make them any better.

As things stand, there isn't even going to be enough cash to do that. According to city staff, if the city's next bond program is delayed until May 2018, some 162 lane miles of city streets would fall to "D" or "E" ratings, meaning they need at least partial, and potentially full, reconstruction.

On Wednesday, Council member Philip Kingston came to city hall dressed in what he called his best funeral suit. He was in mourning, he said, for "little Matilda," the east Dallas street that he says will turn to dust without bond money.

He asked city of Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich how the further delay might affect city finances and whether a bond election in May 2017 would've been irresponsible for the city to hold.

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"Any delay will cause more deterioration and as things deteriorate they become more expensive to fix," Reich said. "I don't believe that [having the election in May 2017] is irresponsible in and of itself."

Further deterioration of city streets, Reich confirmed, threatens the city's bond rating as well. Moody's stressed in its most recent downgrade of the city's credit that continued inattention to infrastructure, in addition to the city's failing police and fire pension system, threatens to hurt Dallas' borrowing power.

"Are we still talking about this bond program?" Kleinman asked, after Kingston's recriminations about the potential consequences of the delay. "We need to scrub our budgets for the $27.1 million. That is what's important, not some maybe bond program, maybe in November."

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