09/02/02 Mark Housewright Townhall Meeting Report
Mark Housewright's townhall meeting was held at the Mt. Creek library in SW Dallas.
The small meeting room was packed. I believe residents actually outnumbered staff at this meeting. Asst. City Mgr. Ryan Evans presented the budget details. Mr. Evans pointed out that the residential tax base is up ($16.9b in 2001 vs. $18.4b in 2002) while the commercial tax base has decreased($21.6b in 2001 vs. $21.2b in 2002). He pointed out that residential tax revenues saved the city from a worse situation this year and things could get worse if residential property values decline next year as many are predicting.
Gee, wonder why that is? Could it be, that commercial tax revenue goes down when you take commercial property off the tax rolls through tax abatements?
The issue of police recruits getting their training from Dallas and leaving for other departments came up. Mr. Housewright stated the issue of having recruits sign contracts to reimburse the city if they leave the department before a certain length of time is being looked into. I have been employed in two fields where this is a common practice, education and the trucking industry, so I don't see why it should be a problem for the city to implement.
Recycling and trash pickup came up with Mr. Housewright saying the council is looking at going to one day a week trash pickup. This seems to be feasible for most households if you participate in the recycling program. It was pointed out in the meeting that the majority of our residents live in apartments. I think they said the percentage was 60%, and renters are very unlikely to recycle.
Tax abatements was a hot issue at this meeting. Mr. Evans gave us a lesson on how tax abatements work. He said the only part abated is the new development on the property, and that the company receiving the tax abatements still has to pay taxes on the undeveloped value of the land. Then he explained that when new development comes it produces jobs, and people with jobs buy houses, and then retailers see all those new houses and build new retail close to the new homes and then the city receives new tax revenues from the new houses and sales tax from the new retail shopping dollars, which he said more than offsets the cost of the tax abatements.
That is a wonderful economic theory if your city is located 50-75 miles from the next nearest city or community. Then all of those benefits can accrue to the city granting the tax abatement. However, Dallas is surrounded by cities with superior school districts to the DISD, cities that put the quality of life for their residents above the return on investment for some out of state developer or subsidizing the operations of professional sports teams and therefore that is where the majority of people who come for the new jobs choose to live, raise their families, and shop at the new retail facilities.
Tax abatements granted by the city of Dallas are probably the greatest thing to happen for Plano, Allen, Frisco, McKinney, Grapevine, Southlake, Colleyville, Flower Mound, etc.
** Editor's comments: The abated tax portion of a developer's rightful property tax gets to be withheld from the general fund and spent directly on the developer's project. That means the developer gets to spend a direct portion of his taxes fixing the streets around his project, landscaping his project, lighting his project, even hiring private security. All of your property taxes go into the general fund and you have to wait in line to get things fixed in your area. New projects make more demands on our police and firefighters and infrastructure, but they do not add to the property tax base when they are given tax abatements.
What to do with Reunion Arena was addressed. Mr. Evans and Mr. Housewright said the city envisions enlarging the convention center to connect to Reunion, which would enable the city to attract larger convention venues with Reunion Arena part of the package. Mr. Evans stated we would still be bound by the "BAD" deal with the arena group to get permission to use Reunion for a competing venue, but they would have only 30 days to respond and we could book the venue if they did not respond in that time frame.
I said, "You are dealing with two economic terrorists who do not keep their word. 'Osama' Tom Hicks and 'Osama' Ross Perot cannot be trusted." From the immediate and boisterous crowd response, I could tell the overwhelming majority of the people shared my sentiments about Hicks and Perot. Even Mr. Housewright and Mr. Evans could not hold back their laughter.
Seriously, it is not hard for me to imagine the city carrying out this plan for Reunion, and then when it is complete, the arena group comes back and enforces the contract that gives them control and revenue from Reunion.
My last question for Mr. Housewright was if the city council members were still getting free lunches provided by the city. He said Marty's, on Oak Lawn, provides box lunches for the council and will do so for a year. Now, that's refreshing, a company actually giving something, voluntarily back to the city.
After the meeting, I was talking with a neighbor and we were both reflecting how the budget shortfall was being blamed on 9/11 and that this dire situation was nobody's fault. I pointed out to him that the Ft. Worth city manager presented a balanced budget to that city with no cutbacks, no tax increases (and this is after Ft. Worth lowered tax rates last year when property appraisals went up) and added positions to the city.
Looks like Dallas still has a lot to learn from Ft. Worth. It is interesting to note here that the two cities having the biggest problems with budget shortfalls are Arlington and Dallas. Two cities that bought into the big lie that subsidizing professional sports would bring unending prosperity for their cities.