Wherein Ron Natinsky Tries to Explain Why He Didn't Try Harder to Stop Last Year's Tax Hike

Ron_Natinsky_wsign_Merten.jpg
Photo by Sam Merten
Ron Natinsky
Last week, we revisited the Trinity River toll road and convention center hotel referendums with mayoral candidate Ron Natinsky because, well, there just wasn't enough space to explain it all in last week's cover story. Much like we quickly glossed over those issues, there was also a brief mention in the piece of "a startling admission" by Natinsky, who said last year's tax increase was unnecessary because cuts could have been found and money could have been raised to close the $40 million gap.

Natinsky didn't find that dough because, as he claims, some of his colleagues were hell-bent on raising taxes no matter what.

Our conversation about the issue easily became one of the most confusing I've had with a public official in my four-plus years covering Dallas politics.

Judge for yourselves.

As a council member, you've supported a couple of tax increases, yet...

One, I think.

'05 and '07 were tax increase years.

Right. OK. Maybe there was two. Yeah.

Two-point-two cents in '05 and 1.87 in '07.

Yeah.

On the campaign trail you talk about being a neighborhood guy and maintaining quality of life. Had your side won [last year], park and rec and street repairs would have been slashed by $40 million. How do you reconcile wanting to enhance quality of life -- or at least keep it as is -- with your stance now of not raising taxes no matter what?

[Pause.] The cuts that were on the table I believe we could have figured out a way to make up that shortfall. Now, whether we made up 100 percent of it or we made up 95 percent, would have been in the same ballpark for me.

You've got an economic downturn. I serve on the board of directors of National League of Cities. Just came back from a board meeting. There are cities that close their libraries. There are cities that close their rec centers, lay off cops and fireman, really decimated the operations of their city to keep themselves afloat. And so when you get down to some of the decisions we had to make, parks and rec and all those things are used more heavily when the economy turns down, so I certainly don't want there to be a negative impact when people need those facilities more than in good times. But, at the same time, we've got a budget we have to live in.

The city gets its money from two places: property taxes and sales taxes. The fees aren't enough to shake a stick at. So sales tax is way down because nobody's spending money anymore, and property taxes have taken a dive because in our own way real estate values are going down. We're fortunate they didn't go down like they did in Florida by 40 percent. They went down 3 1/2 percent. And our residential last year held at about even. So at that point you have to make a decision. Should you pick up the trash in the parks four times a week or should you pick it up six times a week? And I think in the short term those are the kind of decisions you have to make to get yourself to live within your means.

The other is, in the conversations I've had with people in the corporate world -- and I know the mayor [Tom Leppert] had some -- there were other dollars that could have been brought to the table to help shore up some of those perspective cuts. But as soon as word got out that there's a huge -- over 6 percent -- tax rate increase, I don't mind telling you, I went to some of those people and said, "You guys better save your money to pay taxes." It was a little disingenuous to me to say, "OK, we're going to accept your money to help shore up the city's park department or the libraries, and, by the way, there's probably enough votes to raise your taxes by 6 percent." They just seemed to be at odds with each other, and I didn't see any reason to keep pushing the issue.

You think there was $40 million in the budget that could have been cut that wasn't?

The goal was 40, but if it had been 35, I'm sure that somewhere in our multi-billion dollar budget, we could find $5 million to even things out. When you've got an operation with a more than $1 billion general fund and the biggest portion of it, unfortunately, is people, and then you've got some other levels in there you're spending money on, you can't tell me that we couldn't have found a couple of percent to save in our budget.

If there was a way to find that money and not raise taxes...

That would have been preferable.

Then why didn't you do it?

Well, because you had both of these things converging at the same time. And I just didn't feel good about asking for corporate contributions to help keep, for example, the research floor at the downtown library open every day, knowing that it appeared to me that the iceberg was coming toward the Titanic, and we were gonna have a tax rate increase. It was real clear that there were enough votes to do it.

So, rather than try to find a way to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish -- they weren't trying to accomplish raising taxes. They were trying to accomplish closing the gap.

I can't speak for all of them, but I think there were certain elements within that that were destined to force a tax increase.

So you think some council members just wanted to raise taxes no matter what it did?

Yes.

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Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

From an early posting:

Councilman Ron Natinsky:In your email to me and on your web page you ask the question of “How can the city of Dallas move forward?” Over the past several weeks I have been reflecting on the city council (of which you are a leading member of various comities etc.) and the priorities that the city has embraced in the terms that you have posed.

Recounting the past several years I am reminded of how, in 2009, you came up with a tax on Atmos Energy’s pipe lines that run through Dallas to help restore some funding to the libraries (a short lived fix for a money grabbing city) during that years budget shortfall. This tax on Atmos was passed onto the citizens of Dallas as yet another fee (a stealth tax). There were increased fees in 2009 as well as 2010 (on top of a tax rate increase which for many was an additional burden as many saw their property values increased with the good graces of the Dallas County Appraisal District). Dallas has more fees and property taxes and yet still can’t live within its tax base despite this. Many of the imposed fees are difficult to enforce, are ineffective, and pose a burden on those citizens who elected you. 2010-$2.75 Billion dollars and the city still can not (or will not) live within it’s means! And this year-the same old song: “we can’t live within our means, we have to cut the libraries, parks etc. and raise more taxes and fees”

In 2008 when the real estate bubble burst the city leaders should have anticipated (as cities throughout the United States were experiencing economic hard times) the impact on the tax base (and prioritizing the city’s wants and needs) all we heard from the city was “it’s not happening here-look at all the construction cranes we can see from our city hall windows!” Instead of battening down the hatches of the ship of Dallas all we got was “full speed ahead” (much like the late Captain Smith of the Titanic). The attitude and views were irresponsible, foolish, and lack the insight and leadership that the citizens of Dallas expected from you.

Indeed the whole philosophy of funding the city upon the backs of visitors and catering to attracting visitors to Dallas as the prime justification for projects and policies to cover the city’s lack of spending control is fatally flawed, unsustainable, and a burden on it’s citizens who elected you to lead them. The idea here Ron is to control spending by the city not to root around everybody’s pocket looking for money to feed your spending addiction.

And what does the city spend this money on. Pet project of the elite. Libraries, community centers, road repairs, etc are CONSTANTLY put at the back of the budget bus in favor of toll roads in the Trinity River (despite a growing body of evidence that it truly is a bad idea and a waste of monies), suspension bridges over a dry river that only has water in it when it floods (and despite the problem with this project the city is focused on committing a 2nd and 3rd bridges), a tax payer owned hotel (when established businesses would not build it with private funds- a project that competes with every suburb’s venues including the Gaylord complex in Grapevine-in an environment that is already rich in luxury hotels), and the Victory Complex that is floundering due to the high end market that it caters to). The list goes on and on of miss spent priorities and projects that you and members of the city council have championed.

One can only look over the years how the city constantly is trying to “find itself” to come to it’s “true identity” (usually with the aid of high fee consultants at the tax payers expense). The city leaders, unlike other cities like Fort Worth, could not find themselves or the city’s identity from a hole in the ground with post it notes to show you the way.

Indeed I am reminded about the article that appeared in the Dallas Observer a couple of years back of your expenders, with funds provided by the city to each of the city council members for their personal use, of pizza cutters and miniature models of the blue recycling bins that had the city logo on it with YOUR NAME on them.

And now many businesses will be treated to potential flood problems and insurance costs due to the poor levies what the city should have focused upon (as opposed to fluff elite projects) to begin with. But the city still fails to focus on the big picture of floods and the levees focusing still on suspension bridges and toll roads. There are questions brewing about the city’s pension funds too and the sustainability of them too.

When the city is not squandering the hard earned tax dollars of it’s citizens it is busy trying to drive established businesses out of business (The Overhead Door Company in east Dallas, Woodward Body Shop on Ross Ave, the established scrap metal businesses in south Dallas and along the Trinity river, and independent taxi cabs to name a few). And while not a business your personal harassment of the Age of Steam Railway Museum in Fair Park and the departure to Frisco is yet another example of how the city is helping to kill off Fair Park.

In short every step of the way, when the city leaders should have been focusing on basic services and projects and living with in it’s means, the city council has focused on pet fluff projects burying the city’s residences in debt to feed the council’s and mayor’s ego. And you want to be rewarded for this as our new mayor?!?!

Ron-we the citizens of Dallas can’t afford you as either mayor or in your present position as council person. If you truly wanted to do what was right for Dallas you would not run for either mayor or for re-election to your present council position; but, drop out and give the monies that you have culled for your race to the coffers of the city to help pay for the mess that you have helped create. Sadly you are a big part of the problem.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

Let us not forget the tax on Atmos' pipe lines that was Ron's baby. This was passed onto the gas customers for the libraries. You know Ron-- we as tax payers can't afford to have you as mayor or as councilman either. Go back to the private sector!

Billy Blight
Billy Blight

I was going to get around to it, but I got distracted and ate this rotisserie chicken. And then I took a nap. I mean, just try and eat a whole chicken and not take a nap.When I woke up there was a Next Generation marathon on SyFy.

Long story short, time makes fools of us all.

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

And this guy is endorsed by the Mayor who blasts Mike Rawlings as the payday loan king even though Rawlings left in 2006 but gave a proclamation to the company last year.... His excuse was that he didn't know that ACE was involved with Payday Loans at the time???? No... ACE last year and today is one of the nations biggest Payday Loan company's they just weren't doing it when Rawlings left in 2006. Jims, Sam, Rob.... can we get some more info than the bland stuff from the DMN??? Also, can you follow the money trail on this??? Caraway only reported $13,500 in contributions how did he have enough money for the radio buy?

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

I seem to recall that Caraway stated (something to the effect) "we don't have time to evaluate mayorial canidates just vote for Ron". What a bunch of crap.

Jean Val Jean
Jean Val Jean

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some . . . people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over HERE in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our children"

Texaspainter
Texaspainter

He still looks like Bush and both are full of crap.What an idiot.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

He was against it before he was for it. Or something.

Everytime I see his picture I want to place both hands over my rear and shout "EXIT ONLY!"

Who Ray
Who Ray

He couldn't tell a true story if you gave him a bucket to carry it in. No one votes "for" something if they are dead set against it. A leader does not capitulate to the other side if he believes he is right.

stupidisasstupiddoes
stupidisasstupiddoes

I don't understand what he's trying to communicate here, and he needs to be better at it if he really wants to be the Mayor. Basically he's saying that he had enough leadership and gumption to go talk to corporate people and find out if they would be interested in helping the city out, but not enough to go to three or other councils members that works with day-in-day-out and tell them, "Look, I've got five corporate guys who can help out with $20million and I need more help. If we can convince them that this is the solution for not raising taxes, then let's go that route instead"????

He can't have it both ways. And if he really did what he said he did, then he really doesn't deserve to be our Mayor. That's exactly the kind of "leadership" that has gotten us to the lazy cop-out of, "Oh well, let's just increase taxes, that'll fix everything."

Who Ray
Who Ray

Exactly.......you nailed it........he has spent way too much time listening to spin doctors and his own hyperbolae.......he's fabricating stuff as he goes..........he was absolutely opposed to increasing taxes and was (now) convinced the budget could have been reduced (but made no concrete suggestions on how to make the cuts without eliminating services), but voted for the tax increase because it was going to pass with him or without him anyway???????????

Mark Anthony Dallas
Mark Anthony Dallas

Quote

"When you've got an operation with a more than $1 billion general fund and the biggest portion of it, unfortunately, is people, and then you've got some other levels in there you're spending money on, you can't tell me that we couldn't have found a couple of percent to save in our budget."

What he's really saying is that it's unfortunate we have real people with real families and real benefits sucking at the nipple of our tax dollars.

Let's replace the city council with a bunch of automatons. That would save us about half a million bucks right off the bat. And considering the intelligence level of people like Natinsky, would probably be a major uptick in the amount of positive development coming out of the horseshoe every week.

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