Megan Zerez
Mercury Staff

Richardson mayor highlights possible future collaborations with university

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct J.J. Koch’s stance on Richardson’s proposed tax cap. He does not oppose the tax cap but opposes the mayor’s stance on it.

Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker addressed local businesses, government and community members on Jan. 30 at the annual State of the City Address. Voelker highlighted Richardson’s draws to the business community and spoke out against capping municipal taxes ahead of the new state legislative session.

UTD President Richard Benson appeared in several video clips throughout Voelker’s multimedia address, with the mayor calling UTD “a great success story for Richardson.”

The city will partner with UTD and other schools to build the Collins-Arapaho Innovation District, Voelker said. He said the project aims to attract additional tech companies to the region.

Preliminary studies for the district were presented in a Dec. 3 City Council meeting. The redevelopment project encompasses 1,200 acres around Arapaho Road east of Highway 75 and will be centered around public transit and pedestrian accessibility.

Richardson already has a high concentration of business headquarters, with 60 percent of property taxes generated by businesses. According to the most recent municipal budget, 0.8 percent of total property taxes go back into economic development, incentivizing projects such as the Restaurant Park development off of Highway 75.

“One of our keys to success is working with local business leaders to strengthen our economy,” Voelker said.

The narrated video presentation highlighted efforts to keep interactions with the city straightforward and simple for both businesses and citizens. Voelker praised the city’s access to multimodal and public transit as a draw for businesses looking to relocate.

According to data aggregator Walkscore.com, transit and walkability scores for Richardson remain at 32 and 43, respectively, out of 100 possible points. This means most errands in the city require a car and there are few available public transport options. Richardson currently hosts four DART stations, though a fifth has been proposed at Northside as part of the planned Cotton Belt Line.

Three of the four extant stations include large surface parking areas and operate as “Park and Ride” stations, reflective of the city’s emphasis on multimodal transit rather than strictly public transit.

Voelker ended the presentation by addressing public education funding and property tax rates.

“We feel state legislatures often point fingers at cities when the major cause of this issue lies with the state budgeting process,” Voelker said. “While all arms of government need to be mindful of spending (and) where the money comes from, there’s a balance that needs to be found.”

Voelker cited the current debate over funding for Texas public schools as an example.

“Public education funding is the responsibility of the state, as outlined in the Texas constitution,” Voelker said. “Today, Texas is spending less per student than it has in the past, and less than other states.”

According to a 2018 report from the National Education Association, Texas’s 2017 per-student expenditures were $2,481 below the national average. While the national average for per-student expenditures increased by 1.58 percent from 2016 to 2017, Texas’s average decreased by nearly 2 percent. Voelker ended the address by asking residents to vote against any municipal tax caps, citing concerns over a “one-size-fits all solution.”

Among the many attendees of the address was the newly elected Dallas County Commissioner, J.J. Koch, who in an interview with The Mercury said he opposed Voelker’s stance on the tax cap.

“They took a hard stance, and it’s understandable from where they’re coming from, but I don’t agree,” Koch said. “I think you (should) give your citizens an opportunity to vote on that tax rate, and if you’re a city like Richardson, that does a good job of communicating, then it shouldn’t be a problem to get that higher rate.”

Koch ran on a hardline conservative platform in the last election. He said despite his opposition to Voelker’s stance on taxes, he was impressed with the address.

“You can tell residents are happy about the way things are going, and if (the city) executes the way the presentation was put forward, they’ll be in good standing for the next couple of years,” Koch said.