This evening, the Council considered the Mayor’s Capital Improvements Budget (CIB). I proposed an amendment to delete the $110 million flood wall from the CIB. I mentioned yesterday that:
There was a significant public discussion about this last year, and there has been none this year. I think there should be some public discussion about this project. That’s why I filed the amendment.
I’m glad I filed the amendment. I think most people didn’t realize that the nine figure flood wall was placed back in the CIB this year. For example, even the Business Journal’s coverage started with noting that “The proposal for a downtown flood wall…may not be so dead after all.” And multiple Council members commented today that they hadn’t realized the flood wall was back in the CIB this year.
At the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee meeting today, the discussion about the flood wall project lasted about 90 minutes. One very important thing we learned is that this project would be fully approved for spending if it were included in the CIB.
Unlike projects funded by General Obligation Bonds where the Council must separately authorize Metro to borrow money for the project, the flood wall (which would be built using Water Services Revenue Bonds) could be built immediately once approved to be in the CIB. You need a degree in Charter-ology to fully understand the details – but the bottom line is that approving the flood wall in the CIB would authorize the entire project without further action of the Council.
It was also clear that there were many Council members who support the project, and many Council members who feel that it has not been adequately vetted yet. My sense was that, if the Council were to vote straight up or down on including the full $110 million flood wall in the CIB, it would have been a close vote. It would have been all or nothing – either kill it again for another year, or allow it to proceed in full without any further input from the Council.
I felt that playing an all-or-nothing hand with such a large infrastructure project would not be the responsible thing to do. CM John Cooper suggested a compromise. The idea was to amend my proposed amendment to allow an incremental step in the project — to include $15 million only in the CIB for design, planning, and countywide community involvement. This compromise approach passed the full Council with 3 no votes. This will let design work and the countywide community engagement process move forward, but not allow any part of the project to be built without further approval by the Council.
I am being careful to tell everyone know that, when I brought this up, it was because I wanted a public discussion – I hadn’t made up my mind about the value of the entire project. And, after 90 minutes of debate today and us approving taking the next step, I am at that same place. I’ll participate in the countywide public engagement part of the process and decide along with the rest of the county about the merits of the proposed flood wall.
Also, Joey Garrison did a great job of summarizing the details of the Council debate today.