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Proposed agreement with Dallas Area Rapid Transit could net City of Dallas more than $90 million

DART bus
Courtesy of DART

Dallas council members are considering an agreement with Dallas Area Rapid Transit that could net the city more than $90 million in excess sales tax revenue— or not.

The sales tax money has been the source of controversy for years. DART officials originally said the city would be receiving over $100 million in excess tax. But that number quickly dwindled as DART officials said the city was responsible for millions in betterments and project delays.

After members of the North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation department stepped in to mediate the situation between Dallas and DART, the fees imposed were reduced.

Now, the city is responsible for $15.9 million in project delays and $5.2 million in betterments. That brings the total funds the city could receive, to $90 million. And regional officials have pledged another $10 million in funding to certain projects.

City officials say regardless of money already lost on delay fees, the time to authorize the agreement is now. And any more delay means less money the city could receive.

“We don’t have time for finger pointing,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez said during Monday’s Transpiration and Infrastructure committee meeting. “What we have time now for is to move forward and make sure…we get this money and we get this money as fast as possible.”

Interlocal agreement

For the city to receive the millions in excess tax funds, council must agree to sign an interlocal agreement. The document has already been signed by every other member city in the agreement — except the City of Dallas.

The controversy over the agreement stems from DART executives charging project delay fees and requiring “betterments” to different projects that city officials say are not needed — or required by DART guidelines.

During a late February committee meeting after learning about the delay fees and betterments that would be decreasing the tax funds, some Dallas officials said the situation with DART left “a bad taste in” their mouths.

Now, city council members just want to see the decision made.

“The longer we drag this out the less we are going to be able to buy with those dollars,” Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King Arnold said during Monday’s committee meeting. “I will say this to all council members: If you don’t want your DART dollars, we will take them in the southern sector.”

Arnold says she is going to do everything she can to make sure the money is used in the right ways. She says it’s time to move forward and start using the funds to better the city.

Michael Morris is the director of the NCTCOG transportation department and mediated the situation between DART and the city. He says this is likely the best option that Dallas officials will be able to get.

“We’ve added $70 million dollars back,” Morris said. “I don’t think it’s going to get any better than this.”

Morris says he also hopes Dallas officials will view this as a “new beginning” and a more positive relationship with DART.

Next steps

City council members will decide whether to authorize the interlocal agreement that would begin the process of receiving the millions in funds.

But the money won’t be released all at the same time. If council votes to approve the agreement during Wednesday’s council meeting, $50 million will be made immediately available with $30 million “to be made available to the City upon completion of certain milestones.”

Those milestones include the approval of design elements for the Silver Line project, submission of “quiet zone” applications for DART projects and other outstanding documentation on delayed projects.

Council is set to decide the issue on June 14. The decision will come after a full council briefing during Wednesday’s meeting. Yet another memo was issued and placed on Monday’s Transpiration and Infrastructure committee meeting agenda because city officials left last week’s council meeting and broke quorum.

Assistant City Manager Robert Perez says any more delays could mean pushing off funding for years.

“We do have a finite amount of time to deliver these projects,” Perez said. “The City of Dallas is the last city to sign the ILA.”

Council members will decide on the issue during their June 14 meeting.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.