The Dogma of the Downtown TIF

The Dogma of the Downtown TIF

Dogma, defined by Cambridge: “[A] fixed belief or set of beliefs that people are expected to accept without any doubts.”

Most of us have had encounters with dogma throughout our life, whether we recognized it or not. The dogma of political ideology and religion comes to mind immediately. But there are other, smaller and more hidden dogmas that aren’t as noticeable as the big ones.

Since taking my seat as your public servant on Denton City Council, it is the little, hidden, dogmas that have surprised me the most. After a year of observation I can say this, Denton has no shortage of little dogmas. They are sometimes disguised as “visions” or “fiscal discipline.” They are, however, dogmatic in their essence.

I ran on a campaign of funding the core competencies of government first. That means sidewalks, streets, police, fire, libraries and parks get funded first. I’ve tried to make good on those promises, but have encountered resistance in some truly unlikely places.

Last summer Council was faced with a pressing need for sidewalk repairs in Downtown Denton. Already, citizens had become physically harmed by the decaying state of that infrastructure. Knowing that we have several funds dedicated just to Downtown Denton, I suggested we use some of the funds in the Downtown Tax Increment Financing Fund (hereafter, “the TIF”.)

Enter the little dogma, paraphrased for your convenience.

“Well you see,” I was gently told by a councilman, “we have a board that makes recommendations for uses of the TIF, so we should really go to them first.” And then another chimed in, “Why bother with having a board if we don’t ask them first?”

Naive new councilor that I was, “Won’t that take some time? We need a sidewalk yesterday.”

“Sure. So let’s go ahead and fund the sidewalk, and see what the board says.”

Six long months passed by, and finally the board convened. They rightly noted that the sidewalk had already been funded with general funds. Then, ignoring the pressing infrastructure needs downtown, they voted and agreed that the TIF is for a downtown parking garage. This, even though the TIF can be used for sidewalks, streets, etc.

Scroll all the way to the last meeting minutes and you can read it in their words.

Downtown TIF meeting minutes 2011-2017

That leaves City Council with a conundrum. We have a board that wants one use of those funds. Council wants another use. I keep going back to what my colleague said in Summer 2016 when this issue first came up, “Why bother with having a board if we don’t ask them first?” It was a good question striking the heart of the matter. Does the City need a board to decide to make sidewalk repairs downtown? To make needed infrastructure improvements? The City has made $12,000,000 in infrastructure improvements downtown in the last 5 years without the input of this board, but to the benefit of their businesses. Why should the city sequester funds that can be used for desperately needed infrastructure improvements today? Does it make sense to continually increase the tax burden when we have available funds?

It seems like a straightforward question in my world. But again, there is a hidden dogma here. The dogma is simple. There is a vision for downtown created, in part, by people who were elected in the past to come up with these kind of things. We all need to keep working in accordance with the vision of the past and the desires of past officials.

But do we? Cities and populations are organic structures. They morph and change. What was paramount for one population may not be as important for future populations and leaders. That’s why we have regular elections. So we can change our representation as our priorities change.

Speaking only for myself, the world is created new again each morning. I won’t be held to the ideas and vision of past leaders if they don’t meet the needs of today’s world. Today, it doesn’t make sense to sequester TIF funds.

The public work of Downtown Denton isn’t finished in any way. But the City doesn’t need special funds and boards to carry out improvements to the area. In fact, as this brief recent history demonstrates, this particular board *hinders* funding of needed public works in Downtown Denton.

In the absence of accomplishing any actual thing related to real infrastructure needs, what then is the purpose of the TIF or the board that makes recommendations for it?

Dogma, defined by Cambridge: “[A] fixed belief or set of beliefs that people are expected to accept without any doubts.”

This post was written by
Comments are closed.