Friday, April 30, 2010
Editorial: Why I support Richardson’s 2010 bond program
We must renew and reinvigorate our city or it will fall behind.
As a president of a neighborhood association in one of the oldest area’s in Richardson, I see the struggles that an old neighborhood deals with everyday. Those struggles include the usual issues of streets and alleys. However, they also include struggles involving attracting and retaining families within the neighborhoods.
Much of the 2010 Bond Program was driven by neighborhoods. It was not dreamt up in offices of bureaucrats. It is not there to benefit bureaucrats. Neighborhood leaders, such as myself and presidents of other older neighborhood associations, went to City Hall when the idea of a Bond Package was floated and pushed the needs of older neighborhoods. We expressed the problems that we face with struggling home values and trying to keep good residents in the neighborhoods.
The formula is rather simple. If you are a homebuyer, then will you be attracted to a home where the alley is failing, the street is crumbling, and there are no parks or services nearby, when you can buy the equivalent home without these disadvantages? We know and have met people who made such decisions and that decision was often not to live in one of these older neighborhoods. That means lower demand. Lower demand means fewer customers to purchase homes from a pool of houses. It does not take an economist to tell the results of supply and demand in these situations. The message we sent with respect to this bond program was fix old neighborhoods and do what can be done before we have too many problems to fix.
Some things in this bond program are cast by the opposition as luxurious “nice to haves.” Obviously we disagree. Let us take the example of parks. Realtors, statistics from Richardson resident surveys, and studies evaluating home buying trends indicate almost without reservation that proximity to park space plays a large role in home buying decisions.
Old neighborhoods were built on a different suburban model than is required today. The old suburban model was ingrained in the concept of larger and separated services (through zoning and planning) wherein everyone drives a car to the services. Hence, large parks like Heights Park and shopping malls. That is not the successful model of today especially in older urban and suburban areas. Richardson must adapt or degrade. A new park such as in the Heights or Northrich area will appreciate sale value of nearby homes well above any extra taxes paid. For example, homes in the Northrich area are valued below the median sale price for Richardson. If those homes see a mere $1,000 sale price increase, then they will make up for over 10 years tax increase. However, studies indicate that the sale prices will probably increase 5 to 20% over that of the same house without a park nearby. Further, the gradual assessment appreciation will put more money into the cities coffers over time than the cost of some of these parks. Lastly, conscientious young buyers – that is to say today’s buyers that are analogous to some of the buyers that first populated Richardson in the 50s and 60s – will fill a greater percentage of those homes and bring their willingness to maintain their homes, raise children nearby, spend money, go to religious institutions if they choose, and participate in the community.
Experts on urban and suburban growth tell us that income is one of the factors that drive housing choice. The more the income, then more choice is available. The lower the income, then fewer choices are available. While this seems simple and obvious, it plays a large role in the rise and potential decay of old neighborhoods in suburban areas. This plays a role in the development of Richardson. The point of reinforcing old neighborhoods is NOT to bring in high income people and replace lower income persons. It is to make the neighborhood attractive to a wider range of incomes. Over time, suburban areas that are attractive to a wide range of incomes have a higher likelihood of stability and integrity.
The chart below is a chart I presented to the City Council in a worksession about a plan to reinforce the Heights neighborhoods. The chart shows a median income ration of a census block as compared to the entire DFW area. Hence, you can see that the DFW ratio is 1.00 as a reference. What it shows is the declining median income in the Heights areas relative to the entire DFW area. This method of showing relative income strength of areas was drawn from researchers William Lucy and David Phillips in their book “Confronting Suburban Decline” and from my personal conversations with Dr. Phillips. The takeaway from the chart is the declining income over time in the Heights area. An overall long-term outlook for a healthy area is to stabilize that line.
In order to stabilize this for Richardson’s older areas, we must reinvest. The 2010 Richardson Bond program is one such form of reinvestment.
Much of Richardson’s Fire Services were built in a different time. Only men were fire fighters and equipment was different. Times and demands have changed. Fire station 4 should be rebuilt and rebuilding it in the proposed location will strengthen response times in the city. It will also allow for proper storage of equipment and proper distribution of emergency personnel in the city without having to depend on Garland as we do now. To say this is unwieldy and unsafe (as has been said by a tiny minority) is an insult to the fire fighters who fully endorse this proposal. To suggest they would propose something inherently unsafe is a bit silly.
Much has been spread about the proposed tax increase. The tax increase figures released by the opposition are incredibly inflated and misleading. The median Richardson home will see a $9 a month increase. Those in the older areas that need the boost will see much less and as stated earlier their value reinforcement of many of these homes will be much larger than what is paid out. It is with good reason the opposition inflates and misleads, because if they gave a full picture and accounting of the mild increase, the average citizen would likely make a cost benefit analysis and vote FOR the entire package. The fears of tax increases and panic about Richardson’s top tier bond rating are meant to strike panic and fear rather than confronting the future challenges that Richardson faces.
Much has been said about the salaries of city employees. I think it is grossly unfair and a fit of personal politics to put a gun to the head of neighborhoods for the sake of petty personal grudges against individual employees. Even a severe reduction in the salaries of those employees targeted in propaganda would not pay for a significant amount of work. It would barely cover a small road. Further, even if, hypothetically speaking, there was an issue with some salaries, voting down a bond election to benefit the infrastructure of old neighborhoods is not the way solve that problem. In short, taking out one’s frustration on a few people is not only unfair to neighborhoods, it will leave projects undone for years, and it will likely have the opposite effect than the naysayers contend.
There is a cost to voting "no" which is greater than the cost of voting "yes." Defeating the bond program will simply serve to leave roads unpaved, alleys failing, and outdated public buildings costing the public more money than it is worth to maintain them. Neighborhoods will have less of a voice in City Hall and not a greater one. Corporations pay about half of the property tax in Richardson and it would tell them that voters do not want to reinvest in infrastructure. A loss of corporate clientele could strain the tax base and it certainly would not help us retain or attract more. We risk far too much to have a “Do over.”
All in all, there are vastly superior reasons to vote "yes" for Richardson’s 2010 bond proposals and not much reason to vote against it. We must renew and reinvigorate our city or it will fall behind. The time to do it is now. Please vote "yes" for all four proposals on Richardson’s 2010 Bond Program.
Pegasus News Content partner - Richardson Echo
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