By Fatema Biviji
NDG Special Contributor
July 30, 2020 marked a full day of meetings for Irving’s City Council. The day started with a Budget and Strategic Planning Meeting, followed by a Work Session, and ending with a City Council Meeting.
Staff reassured the City Council that they plan to maintain a structurally balanced budget despite the uncertainties brought about by the COVID-19 closures. The City was initially expecting a budget shortfall of $16.6 million when closures began taking a steadfast hold in April. The projection was revised to $9 million in June, and as of July 17, the City predicts a deficit of $6.1 million.
The reason for the shortfall prediction being scaled back to $6.1 million from an initial $16.6 million is strong online sales tax revenue. Though many traditional brick and mortar store sales have suffered, online sales have increased enough to buoy revenue as 1,000 new vendors were added in June. However, it is unclear how federally-funded stimulus checks may have impacted retail spending and if stimulus is not renewed, how sales tax revenue may be affected.
Property taxes are another major area of uncertainty as a record number of property tax protests, over 20,000, were filed at the Dallas County Appraisal District. A major source of revenue for the city comes from property taxes and were initially expected to be strong this year. However, with the record number of protests coming from both commercial and residential property owners, the City Manager recommends that the tax rate be maintained at the effective rate of $0.5941.
While new construction of housing continues to add revenue, commercial growth has come to a complete halt leaving the city with a substantial revenue loss. Through furloughs, vacancies, and reduction of services, the city administration believes it can balance the budget despite the shortfalls.
During discussion of adding new towing fees to offset operating costs for cars towed by the Irving Police, the topic of parking issues in South Irving reemerged. Councilman Kyle Taylor mentioned that he has received complaints from apartment dwellers whose cars have been towed away from their apartment complexes due to lack of signage and proper warning. He said that their cars are valuable assets, and towing could lead to job loss if they cannot drive to work. Mayor Rick Stopfer also mentioned the complaints he has received from homeowners in South Irving who cannot park in front of their own homes due to nearby apartment dwellers parking there instead. The mayor pointed out how variances have allowed for this situation in which apartments cannot accommodate their own residents’ vehicles and how one-bedroom apartments often need three to four parking spaces. Hence, parking congestion is becoming a real issue for neighborhoods and apartment associations should be approached. The city manager said that this parking / towing issue would be brought back in a future Public Safety meeting.
The results of a 2020 Resident Survey were presented. Highlights of the survey include a high approval rating of 77% on questions about quality of life in Irving. However, Irving got a very low rating of 38% approval with regards to shopping opportunities, with respondents from the zip code of 75060 giving an abysmal 26% approval. Residents also cited complaints of litter along major corridors of 183, Loop 12, and Beltline. Also noteworthy were complaints about feral cats and stray dogs negatively impacting the appearance and cleanliness of neighborhoods.
During the Work Session Meeting, Code Enforcement director Teresa Adrian updated on the progress of the “Extended Hours” pilot program seeking direction for the future. The pilot began in Feb 2019 after seeking resident input recommending extended hours. Hours were extended Tuesdays to Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Only 34 calls were received during the T-Th extended hours and a total of 72 calls were received on Saturdays from the time period of 2/19 till 6/20. She recommended that the Extended Hours pilot be discontinued as C.E. can effectively address issues through their traditional hours while occasionally organizing Saturday and extended hours events as needed. Councilman Allan Meagher mentioned that many residents likely were unaware of Code Enforcement’s extended hours and were probably leaving complaints on the police non-emergency hotline. After some discussion, the City Council reached a consensus to direct Code Enforcement to revert back to their traditional hours.
Finally, the City Council Meeting began with Stopfer honoring the memory of long-time resident and past City Attorney John Boyle who recently passed away. “The City of Irving lost a true statesman and gentleman in this last two weeks in John Boyle,” the Mayor stated.
John Boyle was committed to serving the City and the State. As City Attorney, he was instrumental in major water projects and flood districts, Texas Stadium and Valley Ranch. He served in the Texas Legislature for two years in addition to the Texas Historical Society and various other areas including state parks and monuments.