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Questions Still Surround Dallas’ Upcoming Bond, Including the Price Tag

With the mayor absent, the Dallas City Council voted to increase a potential bond election by $150 million, and place it on a May ballot. Whether they can agree on how to allocate that money before their Valentine's Day deadline remains to be seen.
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The 2017 bond package includes more than $500 million for city streets. (Photo by James Coreas) James Coreas

After a meeting last month did little to nail down how the City Council wants to allocate $1.1 billion in bond funding, a briefing Friday brought some momentum. Maybe.

Mayor Eric Johnson was absent from a special called briefing because he spent the week in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. Without that meeting, the Council would not take up the matter again until January 31.

Many Council members and city staffers felt that there were a variety of reasons that the bond should be on the May ballot versus the November ballot, including the need to move quickly on some of the projects it would fund. To get the bond on the May ballot, the Council must vote to do so by February 14.

In a blog post, Johnson said he felt that the decision by Council members Paula Blackmon, Jaime Resendez, and Adam Bazaldua was “silly” and “political noise.” He said the Council’s normal briefing would have been last Wednesday, but since he was in Switzerland, “that wouldn’t work.” So he rescheduled it for the next open date—January 31.

“Then, a trio of city councilmembers didn’t like this rescheduling, so they turned around and used a somewhat obscure procedure in the City Charter to call another meeting about how to spend $1 billion in taxpayer money — for 2 p.m. on Friday,” he wrote.

Johnson was traveling back from Switzerland Friday, and state law doesn’t allow the Council’s presiding officer—the mayor—to attend virtually.

Friday’s votes are meant to guide staff as they recommend allocating bond dollars between several buckets, including streets, housing, parks, and other infrastructure projects. While they’re not binding, it’s clear that many on the Council felt that they needed more time than the scant two weeks that a January 31 briefing would provide. 

The Council’s nonbinding straw votes indicated they would like to pursue increasing the bond package from $1.1 billion to $1.25 billion. Another non-binding vote showed all but three council members—Cara Mendelsohn, Gay Donnell Willis, and Kathy Stewart—would like it on the ballot for the May 4 election. 

City staff outlined the advantages of placing the bond election on the May ballot, which will include Dallas ISD’s board of trustees election and a potential pension election. City Secretary Bilirae Johnson said that a May election would cost the city roughly $595,000 to $877,000 while the November ballot would cost $2.2 million.

While the most recent bond elections in 2006, 2012, and 2017 were in November, City Manager T.C. Broadnax said he was worried about “ballot fatigue” this year. The November 5 election will include presidential, senate, and congressional races, as well as state Senate and House races. The city will also need to place any amendments to its charter on the November ballot.

“It’s gonna be a presidential ballot, and a long ballot…and obviously cities are pushed to the end of it,” Broadnax said. “The whole issue of ballot fatigue and them (the voters) completing and finishing the ballot, I think, would probably be on some people’s minds. I’ve heard worries whether everybody’s going to actually vote and pay attention and know what they’re doing.”

Office of Bond and Construction Management director Jenny Nicewander told the Council that the staff would “prefer a May election because we have the momentum behind us.” By having the matter decided in May, fewer projects would “stall out” she said.

Broadnax also said that long-deferred infrastructure improvements made moving quickly necessary, too. Councilman Paul Ridley, of downtown, Uptown, and East Dallas, agreed.

“I think we have enough urgent projects that need to be funded as soon as possible that it is for the benefit of our constituents that we have this decision made in May rather than November,” he said.

With another $150 million to spend and a deadline looming, the meeting on January 31 will likely make it clear whether the Council and the mayor can agree on what the bond’s ballot measure should look like—and whether they can reach a consensus before Valentine’s Day.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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