At this morning’s council meeting, city staff debuted a new website that will track the $1.05 billion in bond funding voters OK’d last November. It’s a worthwhile project, and it’s ambitious, but there are issues.
First, you have to know how to get to it, a point of confusion in this morning’s briefing. In theory, the easiest thing to do is to type Dallasbond.com into your browser. But the city has been experiencing server issues. The project head behind the new site, Kenneth Hoag, walked council members through a handful of clicks from the city’s home page to get there before declaring what we all must’ve been thinking: Just Google the thing.
Find-ability aside, the site allows residents the chance to look at the total money awarded to-date, broken down by various degrees as wide as a proposition and as narrow as a specific project. Within the $271.81 million for Parks and Recreation facilities (prop B), for instance, we can see the city has a goal to award $74.84 million of that money this year and has so far awarded $38.44 million of it. Click into a specific project like the Dallas Arboretum and you see some details, such as the $1 million bond funding amount and the timeline, with a start date of May 4, 2020.
But let’s take the Arboretum example a step further. While its individual listing clearly shows it’s a year and a half from getting under way, the Arboretum is one of those 49 “projects started” under the Parks and Rec landing page. Why is the project not merely listed under the 191 “total projects”? I do not know. At the meeting, Hoag noted another wonky example in which a project is listed as underway and yet it has a “start date” as TBD.
At least a couple council members seemed impressed by the site’s interactive map, where residents can type in their address and see the projects around them. But Councilman Philip Kingston, who represents downtown and East Dallas, questioned the scope, bringing up ongoing projects funded by debt taken on in the 2006 or 2012 elections. He questioned whether the site could display the cost of regular maintenance paid for things like the streets, alley, and sidewalk funds. “Can those be put on the map?” he said.
Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry, who gave a general update on the bond package Wednesday, replied that the city is working on an interactive program to track maintenance by year, which they hope to integrate with the 2017 bond project map. “The short answer is yes,” he said.
Speaking of projects from past bond programs, Councilman Kevin Felder, of Fair Park and southeast Dallas, later brought up issues he’s seeing in his District 7, where residents have reached out about long-lasting projects at Lamar Street and Al Lipscomb Way, respectively. Felder was informed that the projects he was referring to were funded by previous bonds. “That makes it even worse,” Felder said. “The constituents are very upset. They don’t know what’s going on. Nobody’s giving them any timeline, and I can’t give them a timeline if you can’t get me one.” The exchange ended with Felder asking for the start dates, end dates, and any reasons for delays for all street bond projects in his district. Al-Ghafry said the city would oblige.
With regard to the website, there are a few other issues of note: Fair Park’s Hall of State revamp will include everything from “cleaning/restoration of exterior wall” to replacing heaters to electrical repairs. But it’s all lumped together and currently listed as in a design phase. (Does a cleaning project get designed?) It’d also be nice to see a slot for the contractor who won the work on these pages.
I’ve reached out to the city about some of these issues and I’ll update here if I hear back. There’s legitimate utility to what the city is trying to accomplish, but trying to make sense of the site in its current state could lead to a headache. See for yourself (I’ll do the Googling for you).