Dallas City Council members had no trouble finding words to describe their feelings when confronted yesterday with a $9.6 billion to-do list of infrastructure needs that runs the gamut from streets to cultural facilities to flood management. "Unbelievable" was one. "Daunting" was another. Throw in "depressing" and "scandalous," and you've got a pretty good handle on the tone of the discussion.
Even assistant city manager Jill Jordan, who had the unenviable task of delivering the bad news, got in on the despair. "I think I'd have to be immortal to finish [everything on this list]," she said.
Much more difficult is figuring out how to fill in the hole left by decades of failure on the part of City Hall to properly maintain infrastructure.
Some of the bill will be paid through future bond programs, the next of which is tentatively scheduled for 2017. The rest will have to be cobbled together through some combination of cost savings and revenue generation.
Jordan floated a handful of hypothetical options, big and small. Maybe it'd be smarter for the city to lease, rather than own, its buildings. The city could look at privatizing some operations, like radio communications. It could propose a 1-cent property tax increase and promise voters that the revenues would all be used to fix streets.
And alleyways -- they're in worse shape than streets (a whopping 43-percent "satisfactory" and dropping fast). Does Dallas really want to maintain them? Currently, the city requires developers to build alleys in all new subdivisions. It might be wise to do away with that provision, maybe cede some existing ones to homeowners and allow them to move their fences a few feet back.
"There are some policy questions that we need to discuss about alleys," Jordan said. And parks. And libraries. And courts. And everything else the city touches. Those will be addressed in greater detail in eight briefings scheduled for the coming months.
The good news is the council had, or pretended to have, a collective come-to-Jesus moment.
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In the words of Jennifer Staubach Gates, "It's tempting, when we see big projects that are flashy and look good for our city, but it gives me angst sometimes when we go after that at the expense of our basic city services."
Pretty soon, the city's going to have to start making some hard choices. In the meantime, Vonciel Hill floated a stop-gap proposal: suck harder at the federal government's teat.
"Next week we will be in D.C.," she said. "We will have what we call 'Lobby Day.'"
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.