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Dallas' bond ceiling is $1.1 billion — and park officials want $400 million for projects and repairs

The Dallas skyline as seen from city hall Wednesday, Aug 16, 2023, in Dallas.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Dallas park and recreation officials have identified thousands of "identified needs" citywide that could cost taxpayers almost $400 million if council members sign off on their bond recommendation.

The city’s park and recreation department is recommending a nearly $400 million bond package. Officials say they have thousands of projects or areas that they need funding for. That’s what came out of a briefing at the Parks, Trails and the Environment committee meeting on Tuesday.

The recommendation includes millions in funding for recreation centers, trail improvements and erosion control. City officials say they scored priority projects with a few different criteria including an equity and council member and community input.

John Jenkins is the director of the city’s parks and recreation department. He stressed the fact that the bond recommendation would likely change as other input is considered — and says scoring projects citywide is only the start of the discussion.

“There's areas of the city where we have all this density…where they don’t even have a playground, they may not have any amenities,” Jenkins said. “I could not in good faith submit anything to this council, to the board, to the subcommittees and not make sure we didn’t miss any of those communities.”

But committee members expressed concern over the proposal — which would be well over a third of the city’s bond capacity.

“How much of that is really needs and how much of that is wants?” District 9 Council Member Paula Blackmon asked.

District 1 Council Member Chad West says parks are a big deal — and important — in Dallas, but questioned how officials could balance the needs of the city with what financial room it has.

“How do we justify putting $400 million of a $1 billion dollar bond to parks?" West asked. "Why is this the biggest need of the city?”

Jenkins says 70% of the inventory are real needs. The other part could be funding for projects the city hopes to accomplish.

“My needs really are $400 million dollars,” Jenkins said. “I am trying to serve every single community.”

It is the first time the Parks, Trails and Environment committee has met since Dallas Mayor Johnson changed the name of the group — previously known as the Environment and Sustainability committee.

Recently elected District 11 Council Member Kathy Stewart is the new chair of the committee.

“We are all aware this committee is new bringing parks, trails and pairing them with environment and sustainability,” Stewart said at the beginning of the meeting. “Our goal is to take steps to make Dallas a healthy city both from an environmental perspective and an individual health perspective.”

KERA reached out to Johnson’s office in late June to confirm whether the committee’s name change also meant a policy or focus change for its members. Johnson’s staff did not reply.

City officials will begin work amending the bond recommendations to see what is feasible with the financial capacity the city has.

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

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

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.