A $1.1 billion bond package proposal to pay for upgrades to Dallas streets, parks and other infrastructure projects is now heading to the City Council for review.
The 15-member community bond task force on Saturday approved a suggested list of projects that include nearly $250 million largely for road repairs, $89 million to pay for renovating and building new recreation centers, $53 million to improve storm drainage, $50 million for a new police training facility, $30 million for new and upgraded fire stations, and $10 million to help foster more homeownership and preserve affordable housing. The recommendations are scheduled to be formally presented to the council during a Dec. 6 meeting.
Council members can propose changes to the bond package before passing a final version that voters will decide on. But some participants who helped shape the recommendations headed to the council say they hope the government body decides to shift where the bond money is slated to go, saying $350 million for parks and recreation projects as too much when the city has other needs. That amount is more than three times what’s proposed for housing and homelessness issues.
“What we have are allocations that put amenities over necessities,” community bond task force member Randall Bryant told The Dallas Morning News before Saturday’s meeting. “We should be investing more in streets than what we’ve allocated, do more to address the growing number of unhoused and residents with not enough affordable housing options, as well as our crumbling city facilities and growing southern Dallas. I’m sorry, but none of that is driven by growing parks.”
The timing of when the election will happen also isn’t yet set. City Manager T.C. Broadnax has recommended a May election, which would require the council to approve a final list of propositions to put on a ballot by February. But some council members have expressed concern the window of time is too narrow and have suggested the city consider pushing a bond vote to November 2024 instead.
An election to update the city charter is also planned for November 2024.
The community bond task force, whose members were each appointed by the mayor and council, on Saturday opted not to include a suggestion to the council on when to schedule the bond election.
If the latest bond package is approved by voters in 2024, work on the projects would occur over five years.
The $1.1 billion bond proposal divides money between five categories: $375 million for streets and transportation projects, $350 million for parks and recreation projects, $200 million for city facilities, $100 million for housing, homelessness and economic development, and $75 million for flood and erosion control.
Bryant was one of five task force members who voted no during an Oct. 24 meeting to set those allocation amounts.
Not everyone is convinced Dallas would be better off without investing heavily in its parks. Garrett Boone, retired co-founder of the Container Store and head of a task force subcommittee that recommended parks projects, said at Saturday’s meeting that he believed Dallas expanding its greenspace could have several benefits to the city. He pointed to Plano and said he believed their investment in parks was a key factor in their growth and attracting businesses like Toyota.
“I think we can have a park system that actually helps drive population growth,” Boone said.
Parks advocates were well-represented during the community bond task force process.
Six of the group’s members are part of the city’s park and recreation board. Arun Agarwal, the task force’s chair, is head of the park board. Boone was appointed in April by Mayor Eric Johnson as the city’s greening czar, a volunteer position tasked with spearheading ways Dallas can increase its amount of parks and greenspace.
Johnson himself was part of a coalition of advocates in August publicly calling on the task force to back the parks department’s request for about $400 million in bond funding for projects.
Johnson did not respond to questions from The News regarding the proposed bond allocation on parks.
The $350 million for parks would be a sharp jump from when voters in 2017 approved a $1.05 billion bond package with nearly $262 million in park projects.
Agarwal told The News before Saturday’s meeting that he felt the bond money amounts in the five categories was in line with the priorities of Johnson and the council. He also noted that during the Oct. 24 task force meeting, each member gave their own tally for each category. Tally averages were close to amounts recommended by the the task force: $382 million for streets and transportation, $306 million for parks, $186 million for city facilities, $157 million for housing, homelessness and economic development, and $68 million for flood and erosion control.
“I think the allocation is fair,” Agarwal said. “Do I think we could have used a little more money in some areas? We definitely could have. But given what we had, I think it’s a very, very fair allocation.”
The recommended allocations were disappointing, said Ashley Brundage, who was vice-chair of a task force subcommittee in charge of reviewing housing, homelessness and economic development and is a member of the nonprofit Dallas Housing Coalition. The group was pushing for $200 million to be carved out in bond money for housing.
“It really feels like the city is doing the same thing that they’ve always done, and that is not prioritizing affordable housing in the community,” Brundage, executive director of housing stability at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, told The News before Saturday’s meeting. “We really feel like there is a way for everybody to have their fair share of the pie when it comes to $1.1 billion.”
Brundage said she believes $200 million split between housing, homelessness and economic development initiatives “maybe would feel a little bit more equal” than dividing $100 million. She said she hopes Dallas officials consider one day seeking voters’ approval for a future bond package solely devoted to developing more affordable housing, similar to how Austin voters greenlit a $350 million housing bond last November.
“City funding is what is needed to help subsidize the building of affordable housing because market forces will never meet the deep, affordable need that we need in housing,” Brundage said. “That has to be met through different forms of city funding and the most significant form is bond dollars.”
She also noted that while the city has announced success in putting over 2,700 people experiencing homelessness in apartments through its regional rapid rehousing effort, “it will never successfully end homelessness if we are not putting in the efforts to build more housing and prevent those folks from falling into homelessness in the first place.”
Homelessness, parks, and street-related projects were cited the most by 803 residents surveyed during the summer on what they believed to be top five priorities for bond money.
The top vote-getter was streets, alleys, sidewalks and bridges with 619 votes. But parks (477 votes) and homelessness (472 votes) received nearly the same amount of support, followed by public safety facilities (336 votes), transportation-related projects (332 votes) and housing (290 votes).
This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.