Monday, June 24, 2019, was Plano’s three new council members first full day on the job. The meeting started out smoothly, but by the end two new members made it clear they were there to change the status quo.
The preliminary meeting began with the Mayor announcing his appointments of council members to be a liaison to Boards and Commissions. The Mayor decides which council members get which board or commission.Council members Prince and Smith were assigned to the very important Planning and Zoning.
During the general meeting the almost 400% park fee increase was on the agenda. The park fee is billed to a residential developer when a permit is issued to build housing, and the fee can only be used by the city to buy land and build a park. If a fee is collected, a park must be built.
Councilwoman Maria Tu was the only council member to mention the fact that the developer will just pass the park fee on to the home-buyer, which will raise housing costs. Maybe she read the PPPB article on the park fee. https://planospoliticalpitbull.weebly.com/posts-about-council/new-home-prices-to-rise-if-council-raises-fees
Councilman Williams suggested a different amount billed for different areas, since the cost of land is different depending on where the land is.
Councilman Ricciardelli suggested the fee should be throughout the whole city. The head of the Parks and Recreation Department was hesitant about doing this. Councilman Ricciardelli suggested this because Legacy West was not apart of a park fee zone. At the time the fee was created, the city did not think that area would be zoned residential. When the zoning changed from agricultural to mixed use, the city council did not redo the park fee zones to add Legacy West. So, those folks living there now never paid the park fee. Even though they did not pay the fee Legacy is still getting a park. It will just be paid for by everyone in Plano.
While most council members wanted to add zones to the park fee and study charging different amounts based on the cost of land, most did not want to delay increasing the fee. So, the increase passed 7-1 with Councilman Williams the only no vote. On his Facebook page Williams wrote the following, “On Monday, I had my first Plano City Council meeting and my first lone dissenting vote. Nothing like making a statement right off the bat.
This specific vote was over a 340% increase to the park fee. This is simply a per-house/apartment fee charged to developers of a new residential area for the city to acquire land and develop a small neighborhood park. This is a good way to make sure we have green space as Plano is built out.
However, the park fee has not increased since it was established 26 years ago, in 1993, at $467.47 per house and $323.96 per apartment. Monday's proposal made several key revisions and increased the fee to $2,065.43 per house and $1,442.66 per apartment. Inflation since then has been 73.3%, but I don't have data on how much land values have likewise gone up.
The fee needs to be brought current, though I would have liked to see the numbers behind the numbers. However, I had numerous questions and concerns, centered mainly on two things:
1) The 1993 ordinance divided the city into 14 "service areas" so that park fees collected within a given area could only be used within that same area. That's good, but some areas were not included, and hence exempt from park fees. Legacy West was one of these, and those residents never had to pay the fees. The revised ordinance still excluded those areas, and I feel no part of the city should be exempt.
2) Development costs are the same across Plano, but per-acre land values vary drastically, and the park fee is a flat fee no matter the land value in the area. Thus, new residents in one part of the city are subsidizing parks for new residents in other parts of the city.
I wanted to table the proposal to work through some of these considerations, and bring it back up for a vote at the next council meeting on July 22. Several council members initially expressed agreement, raising additional questions, but after a few minutes of discussion, a motion to approve the revised ordinance was made, and I was the only holdout.
There are three circumstances in which I will always vote "no":
1) I flat disagree with the proposal (e.g. a big tax increase)
2) I don't fully understand the proposal (I won't cover my own ignorance by going along with something I don't understand)
3) I don't think the proposal is quite developed enough for a vote (this is how I felt about Monday's park fee proposal)
When it comes to legislation, I'm a minimalist. Our purpose is to protect citizens' rights and liberties, and to ensure safe and orderly society. Unless there's a true crisis, I won't pass an ordinance just to get something passed. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be ready, and this wasn't.”
The council did instruct the staff to research adding more zones, and research how a fee based on the value of the land would work by the next council meeting. The Mayor has already said he is against the latter, because we don’t charge people different amounts for police. Their is just one problem with that statement; we do charge people differently. A person in a $500,000 house pays a higher property tax bill than a person in a $300,000 home. Therefore the person in the $500,000 home pays more for services.
Some other things discussed on this first day was adopting Robert Rules of Order for city council meetings and the nominating process for boards and commissions. Both items were put on the preliminary agenda by Council members Bao and Williams. The seasoned council members were hesitant to change. The excuse given was usually, “we have always done it this way”. Councilwoman Bao had the best response to that. She said, “Just because it has been done that way does not mean it has to continue. We are here to improve the system.” Those who elected Bao and Williams definitely did not put them there to keep things the same.
This is Plano’s Political Pit Bull Signing Off.