The city council chamber during a Dec. 6 briefing on 2024 Bond allocations. Photo courtesy of Chad West.

Over 130 Dallas residents signed up to address the Dallas City Council Wednesday during the council’s first discussion about financial allocations for the $1.1 Billion 2024 bond.

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The majority of speakers wore either light blue shirts, signaling their support for the Dallas Housing Coalition, or buttons expressing support for parks or the arts.

Wednesday’s discussion was the first in the final phase of deciding which projects will be included in the bond, which is expected to be voted on in a May or November 2024 ballot. The meeting took place after City Manager T.C. Broadnaxreleased a memo outlining city staff’s recommendations for funding in early December. The council also heard briefings from city staff and the Community Bond Task Force.

Recommended spending and public speakers

Advocates for affordable housing shared personal challenges with finding affordable housing as service workers, teachers and public servants, and warned of the effects of those communities being pushed out of Dallas due to unaffordable housing prices.

“Overwhelmingly the greatest need is housing security,” said Somos Tejas co-founder and executive director Ramiro Luna. “People are having to decide between paying their mortgage and putting food on the table. We must realize that who is going to be taking advantage of parks and the arts if you’re pushing us out?”

Dallas Housing Coalition is asking for a $200,000,000 allocation for affordable housing in the bond. The Community Bond Task Force recommended $25,000,000 for housing in the bond, and city staff recommend $70,000,000.

Parks advocates were largely representatives from foundations such as Klyde Warren Park, the Dallas Zoo, the Trinity River Audubon Center, the Texas Trees Foundation and the Turtle Creek Conservancy. Speakers encouraged the council to include CBTF’s $350,000,000 recommendation for parks in the final bond package.

There was only one department, Public Safety Facilities, where city staff’s recommendation lined up with the Community Bond Task Force recommended allocation. Staff recommended 88,000,000, a 0.1% cut to the CBTF’s 88,100,000.

Libraries, economic development, flood protection and storm drainage, and parks and recreation, saw as large as a 60% decrease in recommended funding from city staff when compared to the CBTF recommendations. Streets and transportation, city facilities and housing and permanent supportive housing all received a higher recommendation from city staff than the CBTF, with funding for housing increasing 180% with the city staff recommendation.

The staff recommendations, specifically the 35.7% decrease in recommended parks funding, have been controversial. In the 2022 State of the City Address, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson emphasized that parks should be a main priority of the bond.

It’s a point that he has reinforced throughout the last year, appointing Arun Agarwal, president of the Dallas Parks and Recreation Board, as chair of the bond task force. Only one member of the CBTF voted against the recommended parks amount. In the 2023 State of the City address, Johnson reiterated his desire for parks to be included as a substantial percentage of the bond allocation.

Johnson was not present at Wednesday’s council discussion, citing a health issue.

Community Bond Task Force and City Staff briefings

The city’s total needs inventory totaled $16.6 Billion, Agarwal told the city council while briefing on the CBTF recommendations.

“I am not here to lobby for any specific project or lobby for any specific subcommittee, I am here to present our final report,” Agarwal said.

A $50 million Law Enforcement Training Academy in Red Bird and a complete replacement of the North Oak Cliff Library were  recognized as two of the CBTF’s highest priorities for critical facility recommended projects.

Agarwal explained the CBTF’s second largest recommendation, $350 million for parks, saying that the funding would promote public safety, quality of life and economic development, and work towards the current city goal to ensure all residents live within a 10 minute walk of a green space. The parks project list includes 30 new playgrounds, which would be the largest investment into playgrounds in Dallas bond history.

During city staff’s briefing, Jenny Nicewander, Director of the Office of Bond and Construction Management, said the CBTF recommendations were used as a starting point for funding, but staff had the goal of minimizing the funding gap between council districts. The CBTF recommendation allocated $124.8 million to District 8, the largest amount allocated to a district, and $26.6 million to District 12, the lowest amount allocated to a district.

Wednesday’s discussion was only the first of the city council’s work for the bond program. The bond election is slated to be held in May 2024, although the idea has been floated to move it to a November ballot. In order for the bond to be voted on in May, the city council will call for the election in January 2024.

Deciding what will be included in the final bond package will be a process similar to the “Hunger Games,” council member for District 1 Chad West said in Wednesday’s meeting.

“I don’t see this as housing versus parks and I do feel like it has become that,” West said.