Even Stephen Hawking Couldn't Figure Out the Fuzzy Math Behind How We Are Going To Pay For the Trinity River Park.

This is so sad. It's tragic. I'm going to write about the Trinity River project again. I did all 12 steps. For what?

After the voters of Dallas, in their infinite and manifest wisdom, voted in favor of the project (for the second time) in a referendum two years ago, I admitted that I was powerless over my negative attitude. I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.

I told myself it was over. It's a done deal. That's the problem with democracy. Sometimes the people vote the wrong way.

But last week I was walking by the old City Hall Saloon—just walking by, I swear!—and all of a sudden that door swung open, and I heard the jukebox inside, and I just knew they had a PowerPoint presentation going on.

So today I wake up, barely know where I am, clothes all a mess, haven't shaved in 35 years, and I'm online trying to figure out the total acreage of the proposed Trinity River Park.

I hate myself.

Well, that part's not true. I actually have a certain fondness for the dude in the mirror. C'mon. Who could resist? But I digress.

Just go ahead. I know you want to. You're dying of suspense. Ask me. What is the total acreage of the proposed Trinity River Park?

Excellent question.

Last week when I slung myself leeringly into a chair in the peanut gallery at City Hall, city council member Delia Jasso was asking city staff who will be in charge of a park they want to build along the abandoned Continental Viaduct over the river.

Let's cut to the chase. Jasso, a new council member, didn't realize that nobody knows who will be in charge of the little bridge park, because it will be a part of the overall Trinity River Park, and nobody knows who will be in charge of the overall park. Or what the park will be.

OK, this is where I start just pounding down the shots. Sure, we have been engaged in a grueling municipal debate about the Trinity River project for at least 12 years. Yes, the people who want to see the project done have always said it was about a park for the people. But, no, it was never about a park.

It was always about the highway the backers want to build along the banks of the river. The story about a park was always eyewash, to con the common folk into voting for the road.

Nobody has ever designed the park. No one knows where it will be or how big it will be. No one knows what it will cost to maintain.

What park? There is no park. There is only bullshit. The danger is that the bullshit may actually turn into a park. Bullshit Park. While I was sitting there during the city council committee PowerPoint orgy, I posted an item on our blog, Unfair Park, saying as much.

Since then, various city officials have been communicating with me to tell me how wrong I was, am and shall always be, including Dallas city manager Mary Suhm, assistant city manager Jill Jordan and Trinity River project director Rebecca Rasor.

Jordan was the most pointed. She referred me to numbers available on the city's Trinity River PowerPoint page (temptress!). She said operation and maintenance of the park will cost "$10.5 million in '03 dollars."

"How will the city fund this?" she asked rhetorically in her e-mail. "The increase in property taxes from the increase in values of properties along the river more than provides the needed revenue."

I spent the rest of the week (or so I'm told) begging like a pathetic little dog for more PowerPoint from Jordan, asking her to provide me with backup for her claim that new development along the river, caused by building the park, will pay for maintenance of the park.

Here is why I wonder. Let's do the numbers. In next year's proposed city budget, the city will spend $62 million total on parks. I took the $10.5 million in '03 dollars she gave me for what it will cost to operate and maintain the Trinity River Park and went online to one of these inflation calculators. I used the one put up by the U.S. Department of Labor. It said $10.5 million in 2003 dollars is the same as $12.32 million today.

All right, the new growth along the river will pay X amount in new property taxes. So does that mean the new growth will pay $12.32 million in new taxes? No, that's a mistake. Mistake. Don't do that.

For one thing, only 3 percent of the city's property taxes go to parks. For another, property taxes are only 42 percent of the city's revenues. The city spends about $26 million in property tax money on the Park department. Blah blah blah, numbers numbers numbers. But let's make it simpler than that.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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