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David Minton

Group ranks Denton projects

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

Committee’s preliminary recommendation to go before City Council

A citizens group has ranked Denton public works projects totaling nearly $100 million for the November bond election, a six-year spending package that — should it go before voters as proposed — would likely require a 3 cent tax hike.

The Citizens Bond Advisory Committee approved this week a preliminary recommendation for the City Council. The council is expected to take up the matter during a workshop discussion Tuesday afternoon, prior to its regular meeting.

The recommendation also included sample language for the ballot, with four propositions in all. The first proposition would allocate $61.7 million to streets; the second, $16.6 million to police and fire facilities; the third, $8.5 million to drainage and flood control projects; and the fourth, $11.4 million for improvements to the city’s park system.

When the council appointed the 51-member committee, it asked that the group keep street reconstruction as a top priority — the city is in the middle of $20.4 million in street projects authorized by voters last year — and put two fire stations and a north side drainage project on the list, too. But the council elected not to put any other restrictions on the committee.

Committee co-chairman Randy Robinson said that as subcommittees began working through lists of possible projects, including about $303 million in recommendations from the city staff and another list from the community, 32 projects came to the top.

“But after that, it got hard to draw a line,” Robinson said.

The lion’s share of the group’s recommendations were for streets, public safety and drainage projects.

That included $24 million in street reconstruction, another $15.6 million for the expansion of Bonnie Brae Street, and $13.6 million to rebuild fire stations No. 3 and No. 4.

About 12 percent of the recommended spending went to park improvements, including $2.4 million for a wave pool and concession stand at Water Works Park. The parks foundation agreed earlier this year to fund the replacement of Eureka Park playground, about $1 million, in order to keep that project out of the bond package.

It’s been nine years since the city went to voters with a capital improvement program, Robinson said.

“We really should have one of these programs every five to six years, but we really couldn’t afford the debt until we started seeing some growth in [property] values,” he said.

Based on earlier estimates from the city staff, Denton had about $31.8 million in debt capacity to pay for capital improvement projects without raising taxes.

A 1 cent increase would pay for about $50.8 million in projects, a 2 cent increase for about $63.8 million in projects. The committee’s recommendation would likely need at least a 3 cent increase on the debt tax rate.

In addition, the city staff has been forecasting a 1 cent increase on the operations side of the property tax rate in its annual budget projections for several years. Denton currently assesses 68.975 cents per $100 valuation in property taxes, or about $1,083 per year for the average Denton home.

Robinson said he wasn’t sure how a 3 cent increase would be received by the voters, or the City Council, who has the final say on what goes on the November ballot.

“Nobody likes to pay more taxes — I don’t like to pay more taxes,” Robinson said.

But, to break it down personally, he said, for about the price of treating the family to a night at the movies, the extra money to the city means better streets, better drainage and better public safety facilities.

Only one resident-suggested project, a splash park, was included among 32 priorities listed by the citizen committee. Residents are working with the park foundation to raise about half the $200,000 needed to build it. The rest of the listed projects were among those recommended by the city staff.

A downtown parking garage and the proposed pedestrian mall for Walnut Street didn’t make the cut nor did a permanent facility for the community market.

Market co-coordinator and planner Vicki Oppenheim said that, based on the positive feedback the market received from its proposal to the bond committee, the group isn’t discouraged.

“There are many needs and the city has to weigh those. Other things came ahead of us,” Oppenheim said, adding, “We’ll keep at it.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.