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Dallas Bond Package Includes $5M for IT Facilities

Proposition J asks Dallas voters to authorize the city to issue $5 million in general obligation bonds for information technology facilities and improvements.

View of downtown Dallas from a park gazebo in Oak Cliff.
View of downtown Dallas from a park gazebo in Oak Cliff.
(TNS) — The smallest ballot proposition for a $1.25 billion bond package Dallas voters will weigh in on starting this week is expected to help improve how the city securely stores data.

Proposition J asks Dallas voters to authorize the city to issue $5 million in general obligation bonds for information technology facilities and improvements. In this case, all of the money would go to one building, the former IBM building on 1000 Belleview Street, where the city plans to move its data center run by the Information and Technology Services Department.

The new building would replace City Hall space used since the 1970s to store equipment and data, but city officials say it was originally designed as an office space and hasn’t been significantly updated in the last five decades.

“Basically, the $5 million bond is slated to go into the new building and do some improvements to things like ensuring the fire suppression system is up to date, the physical access is good and any physical repairs to the building that need to be addressed,” said Brian Gardner, the city’s chief technology and information security officer.

Gardner said Dallas will take over ownership of the former IBM building, which is near the Jack Evans Police Headquarters, as of October. The city since at least 2000 has been leasing IBM’s parking garage for the police department.

According to the city, the lease agreement has an option to allow Dallas to buy IBM’s parking lot and building for $1 at the end of the lease term. The term expires at the end of September.

Gardner said that of the $5 million bond money proposal, $2.25 million is planned for building upgrades, $1.2 million for an electronic system that controls physical access throughout the facility, $800,000 for a power supply that offers emergency power when the main source fails, and $750,000 for the fire alarm system.

“It will help maintain the technology infrastructure of the city,” Gardner said.

According to an August 2023 city memo, the city’s current data center has issues that includes not having a fire suppression system, not having a cooling system to meet current demands, and not having enough space to store all of the city systems that should be operating out of the data center.

“There are multiple mission critical applications/systems being operated by departments in a space that is less secure, lacks backup power, and does not have adequate climate controls,” Assistant City Manager Robert Perez wrote in the August 2023 memo to the Dallas City Council. Perez said the city could also consider moving its 911 call center and emergency operation center to the Belleview Street building.

He estimated in the memo that it would cost the city between $175 million to $325 million to build a new data center based on the needs of the IT department.

The city’s IT department was initially seeking $30 million in bond money to pay for upgrading and moving operations to the Belleview Street building, which included $16.5 million in improvements and another $4.5 million for relocation.

Dallas’ municipal government has had issues with data security and storage in recent years as well as being slow to upgrade city technology.

The city in 2021 repeatedly had issues with a system meant to alert firefighters of emergency calls while inside fire stations because all station computers weren’t upgraded from Windows 7, which came out in 2009. A city IT employee in 2021 deleted millions of police files, which an independent review determined was likely accidental and an internal review found the department lacked clear rules on how to store data.

A ransomware attack last year took some city computers and services offline for weeks and impacted more than 30,000 people who had their addresses, Social Security numbers and other personal information exposed by the data breach.

The City Council last August approved setting aside nearly $8.6 million to pay vendors for hardware, software, incident response and consulting services in response to the ransomware attack. The City Council also last year approved several technology upgrades meant to help boost the city’s cyber defense, including a nearly $4 million deal to get a new system that alerts the city’s IT department of possible cyber attacks.

Early voting began April 22 and ends on April 30. The election is on May 4.

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