City Council Preview – January 5, 2016

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The Denton City Council will meet at 2pm on Tuesday to have a Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session. Go here to find the entire agenda with links to back-up material.

I am traveling on business in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio this week and will unfortunately be missing out on this meeting. But here are some items of interest on this agenda:

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INVESTMENT and DOWNTOWN REINVESTMENT FUNDS
During this year’s budget discussions, the council reauthorized $100,000 for the Downtown Reinvestment Fund and authorized $150,000 for a new fund to serve as a cash incentive fund for new and significant economic development projects in town. Both of which are part of many tools in the city’s economic development toolkit by which we can attract, retain, and encourage business activity in Denton. During council discussions, we agreed to meet to discuss both of these issues in greater detail at a later date.

Because the new Economic Development Investment Fund is new, it needs to have a set of policies to guide both its revenue sources and its allowable expenditures. That will be part of the discussion.

Because several questions have been raised as to the continued need for the Downtown Reinvestment Fund – in its current form – the council agreed to revisit that policy. On this point, I agree that this fund (and many other efforts and initiatives) has been used on several significant projects in the downtown area that have resulted in substantial preservation and revitalization of historic buildings downtown.

But as I have pointed out on many occasions, the success of Downtown Denton is the direct result of vision, attention, and creativity over the course of several decades. Before anyone saw any promise in downtown, plans were in place to bring it back to life. In that spirit, I’ve advocated that it is in the best interest of the city to think beyond the square for other pockets of life, culture, and potential economic vitality. We are seeing inspiring signs of life near the A-Train Station, on South Locust and Elm, the Congress Street corridor, and other near-downtown locations. And there are many other places we could consider. Here are my suggestions on how to think through the future of this fund:

  • Instead of simply looking at reallocating these funds, we ought to look ahead to the next budget cycle and consider increasing our annual allotment into this fund. If it is as successful as the data seems to show, then additional investment in different parts of the greater downtown area is justified.
  • Work with local businesses and developers to identify emerging cultural areas.
  • Perhaps identify a certain percentage of the current funding and earmark it specifically for an emerging cultural district near downtown – highlight that and test the waters to see what sort of interest that brings. Re-evaluate at the end of the year.
  • In addition to allocating a percentage of these funds to a newly identified area, begin thinking through several other tools that could demonstrate city commitment and investment in this area: naming the district, mobility issues (including pedestrian and bike access), landscaping, street lighting, broadband access, public wifi, etc.

RENEWABLE DENTON DISCUSSION
Council will continue discussions on the Renewable Denton Plan that seeks to up our commitment to renewables from 40% to 70% in 5 years. Here’s a link to the presentation with an updated list of answers to questions that have been raised since our last meeting on the subject. We continue to receive great questions related to this plan and our DME team has done a great job meeting with concerned citizens and fielding their questions.

There also continues to be calls from some people to stall the project until the city spends additional dollars seeking a third party consultant, “to objectively verify whether or not DME’s recommendation is the best way forward.” In most (not all) cases, calls for a third party consultant come from the same people who have stated explicitly on several occasions that they will oppose any efforts that involve the investment in gas generation in Denton. In other words, for these folks, their interest in a third party consultant does not stem from a desire for genuine objectivity – they have a stated interest in mind: shut down the Renewable Denton Plan if it involves the investment in gas generation. That’s fine if that is your perspective. But let’s not confuse things by calling for consultants when there are already possible results from such a consultant’s report that you reject before you ever read it.

My standard for whether or not to call for a consultant is clear: if there are answers or expert perspectives that are not being provided to the council (and can not be provided) from our current staff of energy experts, then we need to invest in additional expert help. To date, however, our DME team, in dialogue with questioning council members and citizens, have consistently addressed every issue that has come up.

The city council oversees a one billion dollar budget every year. We have several significant projects in the works that involve hundreds of millions of dollars and several years of planning. If every time a high dollar, complex, long-term, and potentially controversial project comes up we have to run to consultants for a “third party, independent, expert opinion” to “verify” the path forward, then I submit we will have a very slow, dysfunctional local government that will always be too paralyzed to do anything significant.

As I’ve maintained on several occasions, the Renewable Denton Plan is one of the most ambitious and aggressive plan involving renewables pursued by cities around the world. And we are able to do so in a way that keeps our electricity reliable and our rates low. Let’s make history and do something great.

RECALL PETITION OF JOEY HAWKINS
There’s an item of today’s agenda that has the City Secretary certifying a petition to recall Councilman Hawkins. I’ve run some stats based on voting records of those who signed the petition. You can see those results, and my opinion of this effort, here.

I’ll be back in town for next week’s meeting. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, let me know at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

 

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