Friday, August 8, 2008

Community Development is a Balancing Act

My wife, Mrs. Line, often reminds me that it never hurts to ask for something you want. So, in that spirit, I have the following request: Who would like to build a swimming pool in my back yard?

Now, before you make the meteoric leap to negativity laced with profane epithets, let me state my case. I’m a tax-paying citizen of Frisco. Getting to the existing public water park is just not convenient for me. So wouldn’t it be a valid use of our tax dollars to build an amenity I could more readily use? I certainly wouldn’t hog it. You can come over any time you like and take a dip!

Okay, that’s a bit absurd. So let’s change the equation. Who wants to build a pool for 90,000 of Frisco’s residents? Considering that there are around 100,000 folks that call Frisco home, that would certainly rise higher on the public’s “cost/benefit” calculator. In fact, I’d bet that most residents (and their elected representatives) would vote for a facility that served such a high percentage of the population. (And I’d win that bet, since just such an election led to the development of the new Athletic Center and its indoor/outdoor waterpark.)

Now let’s slide down the slippery slope. What if the pool only served 60,000 people? 20,000? How about 5,000? 20? You get the picture. Where is the magic number that says a public works project must serve X% of the population before we spend tax money on it?

This is far from an academic exercise. This is exactly the kind of decision that gets made – and often second-guessed – on a daily basis at all levels of government. As a member of Frisco’s Community Development Corporation board of trustees, I and my fellow board members are frequently called upon to make these kinds of calls. Should we fund the next community park on the west side of town or the east? Should we pay for more baseball fields, or divert the resources to soccer pitches? Do we want to spend tax dollars on a dog park or a skate park?

Each of these decisions comes down to balancing the cost against the amount of benefit city residents expect to receive. In the case of the ball fields, we can get a pretty good idea of the benefit (and demand) by looking at the participation in the Frisco Baseball and Softball Association, the Frisco Soccer League and other organizations. But when it comes to a skate park, how many teenage kids are likely to take advantage of such a facility? Are there enough dog owners to justify building them their own playground?

The CDC is responsible for investing a half a percent of every sales tax dollar in improvements for the city. We’re a primary source of funding the city uses to build community parks like Frisco Commons, Warren, Bacchus and the new B.F. Phillips. We talk a lot in our meetings about maintaining a “quality of life” in Frisco. Of course, that’s a difficult concept to define. The term “family friendly” comes up frequently, but given the wide variety of “families” in Frisco, even that’s not a touchstone we can easily get our arms around. You hate to boil every discussion down to a numbers game like the one I just described, but often that’s the only quantitative guideline available. And if you don’t think quantitative measurements are important in government, you haven’t been to a city council meeting lately, have you?

To assist us in our deliberations, the CDC is refining our decision criteria. We’ve outlined certain areas of focus that align with the City Council’s priorities for Frisco and will use these to guide us as investment opportunities come our way. We’ll be publishing more about that on the city web site in the coming months ( Of course, you’re also welcome to join us at our meetings on the third Thursday of every month and see just how we do things. With as much criticism as we hear on how tax dollars are spent, it’s disappointing how rarely people drop by to see us work. Take a look at the city web site to find the time and location of the next meeting and drop on by. We’d love to have you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll put together a pitch for the next city council meeting and see what I can do about getting my pool built. Hey, it never hurts to ask, right?

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