DALLAS — The agency running Dallas County’s school buses has sold public land to combat financial troubles, but taxpayers will have to fund the long-term costs of the $25 million deal.
KXAS-TV (http://bit.ly/2qoeNJk ) reported Dallas County Schools sold four parking lots only to lease them from the new owner since they’re still needed to operate the school-bus system.
County taxpayers are expected to pay more than $47 million in lease payments over the next 20 years. The deal leaves Dallas County Schools responsible for property maintenance, taxes and insurance. The agency was previously exempt from paying property taxes when it owned since government agencies are tax exempt.
Dallas County Schools said it had a $42 million budget deficit in January because of a revenue shortfall and it laid off 100 employees. Some state lawmakers said the deal raises concerns about the agency’s handling of taxpayer money and are calling for the agency to be closed.
The House will have a hearing Tuesday to discuss a bill that would allow voters to decide this fall whether to shut down the agency.
Denise Hickman, the agency’s executive director of business during the deal, raised concerns when paperwork showed Louisiana businessman Slater Swartwood Sr. profited from the deal. Swartwood is linked to Force Multiplier Solutions, a company Dallas County Schools worked with on the camera business venture that got the agency into financial trouble in 2012.
The purchase agreement describes Swartwood as the agency’s broker. He earned a $750,000 fee and nearly $200,000 was paid by the agency. Swartwood told the TV station in an email that he worked as a consultant for the buyer and didn’t know Dallas County Schools paid a portion of the fee.
Force Multiplier Solutions is also linked with more than $245,000 in campaign contributions to the agency’s board president, Larry Duncan.
“Every penny is legal, honest, open and ethical,” Duncan said about the campaign donations.
Don Southerland, a former FBI agent and forensic auditor, said out-of-state donors are allowed to contribute, but questions remain about whether donations were made in exchange for business, which is illegal.
Information from: KXAS-TV, http://www.nbcdfw.com