Rick Wamre: Bad business

City politicians take their best customers for granted

In business, the holy grail is a new customer: There’s no bad blood from working together for years, only optimism about future profitability. So companies tend to focus on newbies to the detriment of existing customers.

Yet the single, most-profitable asset a company has is a satisfied customer, someone who benefits from the company’s services and is willing to indefinitely buy its products.

That should be the way city government looks at taxpaying citizens: Those of us who live in Dallas are the city’s most profitable customers. We already pay taxes and fees, and many of us have large investments in our homes and businesses. We’re already motivated customers.

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So why do the politicians steering city government continue to focus on attracting new people, to the apparent neglect of those of us already here? It’s pretty simple: They know we don’t vote when we get the chance in council elections, and we don’t pay attention to what’s going on the rest of the time.

Street repairs are the most obvious example: It has been nearly a year since we began our most recent annual discussion about the horrible condition of city streets. In a few months, when winter’s damage is done, we’re going to have about the same catastrophic number of potholes we had last year, despite all kinds of promises to start solving the problem. We know city employees are making an effort to repair potholes with the tools they’ve been given; we see them out there every day.

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But we also know this is a billion-dollar problem, and we — the city’s best customers — were told by the city manager that we could only afford $20 million or so to fix it. That’s barely enough to keep up with further street degradation.

So what solution was offered? Let’s put minimal money in this year’s city budget, just enough to tread water with street repairs, and focus on the next bond program in 2017.

But instead of taking a deep breath and funding our street problems completely beginning in 2017, they’re talking about focusing a chunk of the bond program on yet another $250 million in convention center upgrades (new customers), while downplaying the $1 billion in street repairs (existing customers), $200 million in needed repairs to existing arts and cultural affairs venues (existing customers), and for all we know, sneaking millions more into the can’t-be-killed, now-non-meandering Trinity Tollway, which benefits just about everyone except Dallas residents since it’s essentially an expressway to bypass the city.

It’s not too early to pay attention to what some of our politicians are planning to do with our money. Their continued focus seems to be attracting new customers with various tax abatements for relocating companies, entertaining conventioneers who are often one-and-done visitors, and facilitating the drive-times of suburbanites eager to pass through Dallas on the way from one suburb to another.

Meanwhile, their “best customers” — those of us who are already here — get to suck on the short straw again while our vehicles and bodies take another year’s pounding on crappy city streets.

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That’s not the way to keep the most profitable customers happy, and the political guys know it. They just don’t seem to care.

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