I've got to get "warmed up" again; even at the risk of being redundant. I read an article in the DMN this morning that made me think of Rowlett and some of the things we have discussed. I'd like to make a brief pass at them again to re-introduce a topic that I think is important to the citizens of Rowlett. I think the citizens of Rowlett must have confidence in their city government to provide the support that government needs to make the city work well. That confidence comes from good communication. You can agree or disagree with the actions of City Council, but your opinion should be based on the accuracy or existence of good, valid, information. The rub comes when the good, valid, information is to be provided by city government. Therein is born the conflict. How much good, valid, information does the Rowlett "officialdom" allow the citizens to have? Also, in the interest of "transparency," is the information shared with citizens going to have "spin" or deception attached to it......or is it going to be the straight skinny?
As you might expect, I talk to a lot of people. There are good things said about living in Rowlett, but there are also some bad things. If I talk to 10 different people over a day, I will hear 10 different versions of living in Rowlett. I am happy to report that when pressed, most stories trend toward "good." Not often "excellent," but good. Also, an near equal number of opinions are "fairly good, but things could be a lot better." These two extremes, that are not that far apart, seem to have a single most mentioned criticism. That particular criticism transcends both extremes. The complaint is that the citizens don't get enough information on matters that effect their taxes. I honestly don't believe the people are trying to tell "officialdom" how to run the city, but I do believe they are focused, and correct, about how much money is being given away for economic incentives; how much is spent tearing down parks and then rebuilding them; how much land is zoned to prevent development; and how are the tax abatement gifts calculated? Be assured, the above is only a partial list.
In my opinion, it's this common distrust being generated by what is perceived as "secrecy" that is a main reason for Rowlett to be stumbling a bit. "Secrecy" might be the wrong word. "Stealth" might be appropriate. Now, you will read and you will hear that Rowlett is doing great. That's not quite true. This blog is filled with facts that dispute "greatness." Is Rowlett doing okay? Well that depends on your definition of okay. Rowlett sits in the middle of one of, if not the best, areas of growth in the country. That would be North Central Texas......an 11 county metroplex. Is Rowlett doing okay in terms of Peoria, Illinois? Absolutely.......It is doing great! Is Rowlett doing okay in terms of North Central Texas? Well, it could probably use some help. You gotta know how to find the help.
When I read the article on Richardson today, I noticed a very similar group of story lines that we had already heard in Rowlett. Richardson has it's version of Rowlett 2020. The story in DMN about Richardson was a replay of Rowlett 2020, including the 30 year waiting period to see if they were doing it right. Let me tell you somethin,' people. During my days in corporate America, I managed a lot of people. I often asked them for plans, including 10 year marketing studies of lot absorption rates of many very large, multiple phased real estate land developments. I am happy to report that not one sent me a study that said we have to wait 10 years to find out if it was going to be successful. Those young people had enough sense to know that some interim "snapshots" along the way were going to be required. It was understood that the farther out the estimate, the less reliable it was. However, the "snapshots" along the way made it possible to make adjustments when needed. Do you think there have been any recent news items that give cause to make adjustments in Rowlett's plan? What about Toyoto? What about the new State Farm building? What about the huge City Line office building going up on Geo. Bush Tollway? These new developments are 20-30 minutes commute time from Rowlett? Have you noticed any changes in North Shore planning? I guess we're still waiting for office buildings and warehouses. Some people in Richardson said they were a little disappointed in the results of their rezoning efforts. The mayor essentially said, The Dart line and the new City Line development are a result of 20-30 years of planning. Well, I was here 30 years ago, and I don't believe it was. It's my opinion that things are slow in Richardson and the "30 year wait" is being painted as acceptable and normal. For speculators, yes. For cities, no.
However, interestingly, Robbert Bloemendaal Rowlett councilman asked one night at Rowlett city council meeting if anyone knew if waiting 30 years was cost effective. He didn't receive one answer......not from any city council members, not from the city manager, not from staff. I answered his question the next day.
Which leads me to another question. When staff was presenting the Villages of Rowlett apartment development to council, they had a spreadsheet that said that Rowlett would make an investment of $6 million, and then contained within the spreadsheet there was entries indicating that approximate $3 million of that investment would be paid by 380 grants. Clearly, the implication was that some of the expense was going to be borne by 380 grants. Rowlett provides 380 Grant money. Boy!! What a distortion. Somebody should have gotten a serious butt chewing about that misdirection. That is bordering right on the edge of lying to the citizens. The 380 grant deception was bad enough, but also the representation that Rowlett was only going to pay $6 million to achieve their apartment complex downtown was not close to being true. There is a post in this blog whereby I counted up over $11 million. Then, there was the representation that after the tax abatement of 15 years, the project would start paying $255,000 per year in taxes.
Ever do the arithmetic on that? There were a lot of smart people in that room. I presume they know how to use calculators. Furthermore, they had two days advance notice on what the arithmetic was going to be. Nobody was prepared to ask where in the hell these numbers came from. Who generated them? Let me show you the numbers one more time (yes, it's redundant, but important).
$11 million cash or gift to developer.
15 year tax abatement
$255,000 per year thereafter
Number of years before receiving tax revenue: 15
$11,000,000 divided by $255 K per year = 43 years
I don't object to the project. I think it will really help the downtown and be good for Rowlett. However, I absolutely don't agree with the amount we are giving away. We are literally giving the developer 33% of his costs, based on a $30 million total development budget. These facts were not made clear to the Rowlett citizens......probably for obvious reasons.......but that doesn't make it right. Perhaps, armed with better numbers, the citizens could have forced a more agreeable number. That's the way things should work.
Well, this has got me stirred up again. We have to talk about bonds, too. Remember, elections are coming. Start talking to the people you want to run. They need to start thinking about it.