DALLAS — The city of Dallas will move forward with its economic opportunity analysis study, even while the economy is under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilors met with the consultant who will complete the study, Beth Goodman of ECONorthwest, on April 20. The analysis will help the city determine whether it has enough land zoned commercial and industrial to serve needs in those areas for the next 20 years.
The cost of the study is $44,870, and the city will not be able to use grant funding to pay for it.
City Manager Brian Latta said the issue of the pandemic was discussed at the April 20 meeting.
“We had a recent conversation with the consultant by the city council during the workshop,” he said. “There was some concern raised during that meeting regarding the EOA and the timing of that, whether it’s appropriate to do that now with some of the uncertainties related to COVID and the economy.”
Latta said one suggestion was wait to do the analysis until the fall of next year. He asked council members what they thought about postponing the study. He said Councilor Jackie Lawson asked that the council consider postponing at the May 4 meeting. Her concerns were about paying for the study when the city budget outlook is unclear, and that the data won’t fully take into account the impact of COVID-19.
“We should postpone it because it is about $45,000 that we shouldn’t necessarily spend right now. Analysis is based on the data that is put in. The output that it will give is going to be entirely skewed, so to use it as a plan moving forward when we have no idea. The way things are looking, this is not ending quickly if it was up to only the governor,” Lawson said. “We don’t know what the next few months are going to look like. That’s not a blip on the screen, and that’s not something that they intend to take into account.”
Latta said the recommendation of the city staff is to not postpone the work.
“We are currently engaged with that consultant,” Latta said. “Staff doesn’t recommend postponing it at this point simply because it’s a 20-year forecast.”
He said the economic impact from COVID can be taken into consideration.
Councilor Kelly Gabliks said the city would have to wait nearly two years to incorporate the full outcome of COVID-19 into the city, and she doesn’t think the city should wait that long.
“I think we would have to postpone it until 2022 before they would even start looking at 2019 and 2020 data. To me it doesn’t make sense to postpone. They are going to account for this,” Gabliks said. “I know this is a big down that we’ve not seen before, but I say let’s go forward because there are a lot of things we need to do as soon as we get out of this problem.”
Lawson said spending money on the study may not be wise.
“It puts it off for a while, but I don’t think it’s money we need to spend for a tool that we are not really going to use in the very near future,” she said.
Councilor Larry Briggs said he understands Lawson’s concerns, but believed having the study completed sooner could help the city once the economy is open again.
“If we are to bounce back quickly from this, regardless of whether it’s three months, six months, or a year down the road, I think we need to have the tools in place to recover quickly,” Briggs said. “And part of this, as I understand it, is to access and allocate commercial properties, and have it ready for businesses to move in and grow within our community. I really think we should continue to move forward and be more ready when this bounces back to bring that economy into the city of Dallas.”
Lawson made a motion to postpone the study until the fall of 2021, but it failed on a 2 to 7 vote.