Special to The Dallas Examiner
The Dallas City Council voted to adopt an approximately $4 billion FY 2020-21 budget during the Sept. 23 Council meeting. The budget was influenced by recommendations from residents, faith and education leaders, community activists, neighborhood groups, the City Council and other stakeholders.
More than 7,000 Dallas residents participated in budget town hall meetings throughout the month of August, and several hundred individuals gave feedback on the proposed budget at various City Council meetings since June.
The most heated topic was the call from several civic activists and organizations to defund the police. Caller after caller asked the council to make “brave” decisions, as they warned the mayor and Council members the decisions they make during the meeting would be remembered when they go to vote.
During the meeting, many, including the mayor, pointed out the concerns of the community and the callers. A few Council members noted hearing a contradicting message from their constituents – calling for increased policing.
Though mostly civil and a few polite jabs, the division of the City Council reflected the division of the city’s residents.
“Late last night, I made the difficult decision to vote against the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget,” Mayor Eric Johnson expressed in a written statement Sept 24. “The budget, the single most important item the City Council votes on every year, passed by a 9-6 vote – the slimmest margin since 2010.
“Ultimately, in the middle of a pandemic, I couldn’t support a budget in which the City Council didn’t touch a single bloated City Hall executive salary and failed to share in the pain with residents in any discernible way.”
The mayor expressed his disappointment in the Council members voting down his previous budget proposal, which included salary cuts to Dallas City Hall executives – with 1% cuts from annual incomes of $60,000 to 25% cuts to salaries of $250,000 and up – reducing the budget by $6.5 million.
He also communicated that the budget would underfund public safety and street infrastructure and leave the tax rate as one of the highest in the state – which would make the city a less competitive option for businesses considering moving to Dallas.
Still, he said it was worth noting that many high-priority programs made it into the final budget.
“The recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities will receive significant funding in the first year,” he continued. “RIGHT Care, which responds to mental health emergencies, will be greatly expanded, and other services have been added to help people in crisis. The Office of Community Police Oversight will receive additional funding. Some funding was also directed toward the City permitting process to make it easier to do business in Dallas.”
Another significant change was the reduction of the property tax rate for the fifth year in a row, to $0.7763 per $100 assessed valuation – a cut of $0.0003.
Council members also approved a $15,000 grant from Race Forward, through the Government Alliance on Race and Equity Summer 2020 Innovation and Implementation Fund, to host a community gathering space with artists and the local community on a vacant lot in Southern Dallas from Sept. 23, 2020 through June 15, 2021.
Johnson also pointed out that minimum wage for city employees went up to $14 per hour. Also, Code Compliance will receive additional funding and several small programs to improve the environment were added to the budget. And funding bike lanes was restored. A large portion of the city’s general fund, which totals $1.4 billion of the overall budget, will support core services such as fire rescue, streets, parks and libraries.
“City staff and the Mayor and City Council worked many hours to pass a financially prudent budget that maintains essential City services during one of the most challenging times for our community,” said Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich. “It is always important that we make smart financial decisions, even more so in such an economically challenging time. We balanced the FY 2020-21 budget, despite estimating we will have $62.6 million less revenue than we had planned.”
Council members voted to cut 25% of the overtime funding for the Dallas Police Department. Though it approved an estimated total of $1,317,049.40 for the DPD helicopter engine maintenance, citing the program helps reduce the amount of officers used during a man search.
Developed by the City Council and City Manager, the adopted budget aligns with the city’s eight strategic priorities:
- Economic development.
- Environment and sustainability.
- Government performance and financial management.
- Housing and homelessness solutions.
- Public safety.
- Quality of life, arts, and culture.
- Transportation and infrastructure.
- Workforce, education, and equity.
“This is an unprecedented year to make R.E.A.L. Change, reimagining public safety in ways that are responsible, equitable, accountable and legitimate,” said City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “This budget allows us to now build on a strong start and take real action in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.”
The city’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Details of the proposed budget can be found at http://www.financialtransparency.dallascityhall.com.