Dallas city manager presents ‘impactful’ budget with R.E.A.L. Investments
By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ
The Dallas Examiner
Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax was somewhat enthusiastic as he presented his fifth budget for the city of Dallas Saturday during a virtual media conference. The new budget, which was larger than the previous budget, focused mostly on the issues of equity and infrastructure.
“In many ways, in my opinion, I think this is one of the most impactful budgets that the Dallas City Council will have coming from me, giving my recommendations this year,” he boasted.
“The economy has recovered faster than we had expected. In addition, the federal funds that we received have gone a long way to help us solidify and strengthen our budget. This year, the theme of our budget is actually R.E.A.L. Investments. We’re making great strides in efforts to invest in our community and in our organization to make us stronger as we move forward and out of this pandemic.”
The proposed budget is biennial. The total for the first year is $4.35 billion. The second year is $4.26 billion. It has been organized into the Dallas City Council’s top eight 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
Public safety along with transportation and infrastructure were budgeted for over $1 billion of the total budget for each year. The others have a planned fund of between $22 million and $600 million each year.
One major area of concern in regard to public safety was the need to hire more police officers and 911 agents in order to respond faster to high priority calls.
“We are recommending in the budget, adding and hiring 250 police officers – over the next two years – 250 in fiscal year 2022 and 250 in fiscal year 2023,” he stated.
He later explained the estimated need for new recruits.
“We always project they will lose certain amount of officers and so in each of the next two years, we projected that we’d lose about 205, understanding that that may or may not happen like this year we projected the same, but we actually ended up further along with our hiring.
However, with the COVID-19 Delta variant spreading at a rapid rate, they may have to make adjustments to the plan.
“We obviously may adjust that number down if in fact we’re having an impact from COVID, and that is one of the reasons why the number was lower in the last two years or at least last year, then what we had planned for this budget – because we were dealing with class sizes and issues are really hand to hand in close contact – that our medical professionals advised us to lower class size.”
Broadnax also stated that the city “implemented a number of steps and initiatives and strategies to try to improve” the 911 emergency system.
“We actually raised the pay for the call takers to try to be more attractive for individuals to apply. And we’ve actually streamlined the hiring process,” he explained. “It used to take maybe 45-60 days to go through a background check, where we’re trying to complete those now within two to three weeks. We’ve shortened those training schedules so that once we have somebody who’s been offered employment, we can get them further through their training regimen fast and effectively and efficiently, so we can get them in to the call center.”
Another concern in regard to public safety was speeding and illegal maneuvers in intersections.
“We’re adding $500,000 in next year’s budget and $500 in the year after to deal with traffic calming out in our neighborhoods, as well as $200,000 each year to support street racing remediation pilot projects that we’ve had ongoing this year to try to reduce the level of street racing out in our community,” he explained.
City of Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich described how the budget would answer residents’ concerns about how police have handled emergency calls regarding individuals experiencing a mental health episode.
She said the city has a partnership with Right Care, which is trained to handle mental health emergencies. The budget would double the number of teams from five to 10. This would allow them to answer about 13,000 calls a year,
“We are responding to almost 800 calls a month. And with doubling, of course, we should be able to do much better and handle all of those,” she further explained. “In terms of other money for mental health, we have proposed some use of our American Rescue Plan Act funding for mental health services in the community. Those will be probably contracts managed by our Office of Community Care. We already have some mental health services that we paid for last year with coronavirus relief funds.
“So we’re talking about individual and group counseling in and as well as services for homebound seniors for isolation assistance and some things like that – so working with community partners, probably nonprofits, profits and providers out there.”
She said the programs in place would help individuals avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and arrests.
Transportation and infrastructure
Transportation and infrastructure would receive the most funding,
“We’re investing nearly $300 million over the next two years to improve street conditions, or nearly 1,700 lane miles of street that we will pay through general fund old bond funds, current bond funds, as well as some temporary certificates of obligation to meet that need to get us at about $150 million on an annual basis, which is what we need to result in zero degradation of our streets.” Broadnax explained.
“In an effort to expand the walking capabilities of members in our community, we’re going to spend $15 million over the next two years to address the sidewalk master plan implementation, particularly in the critical areas that have been identified in that plan. We’re going to devote $14 million over the next three years to leverage $50 million to support adding 100 new traffic signals out in our community to help us reach our vision zero strategy goals. Additionally, we’ll spend $5 million over two years restriping streets as well as crosswalks throughout our community to really address the backlog in that area. And we’re hopeful in the third year to address it 100%.”
Also, the city planned on replacing outdated school flashing beacons, increasing bike lanes, solar panels on city buildings and implement programs to help the environment as well as homeowners.
“Additionally, we’re going to relaunch our Branch Out Dallas program to provide 2500 native trees to residents out in our community, to again improve our storm water runoff as well as the reduced heat island index effect. Of that we’re going to invest $25 million.”
Entrepreneurship and employment
The city manager discussed plans to launch an economic development corporation.
“We’ve leveraged and we’ll spend $7 million over the next three years supporting the standing up of that organization and then moving on to self sufficiency after that. And we’re creating a small business center by collapsing and reorganizing how we approach that. That will also address workforce development or re-entry services for those individuals coming out of incarceration as well as focus on entrepreneurial ship. That particular division will have 15 employees then to do that work in those three streams.
The budget also includes a plan to help individuals without a permanent resident.
“We’re going to invest $25 million … in our homeless solutions area to contribute $25 million is a funding to support a $72 million program and effort over the next three years to reduce homelessness. We’re going to sustain the two hotels that we purchased in the amount of about $3 million, as it relates to what we acquired during COVID, to reduce the spread of COVID for our homeless population. And then we’re going to be subsidizing to the tune of $10 million water and sewer infrastructure required for affordable housing units out in our community.
“We’re also proposing to clean over 1,300 unimproved alleys spanning 129 miles across this city and launch a trail pilot program to transform 40 alleys into safe welded trails. We’re expanding Wi-Fi in parks by $3 million to at 62 of our parks’ facilities out in our community. And then to protect/ensure that there are appropriate security at many of our parks and facilities and trails, we’re adding eight additional city marshals to work alongside our park rangers out in our community.
He also discussed reducing the property tax rate as well as providing property tax relief to property owners by increasing the city’s over 65 and disabled exemption from $100,000 to $107,000.
Other items on the budget included funds for children and family related services, child care, food and essential services, sewer services and addressing the digital divide – to name a few – as well as oversight on technology, financial empowerment centers that were launched last year.
The city manager discussed the budget to the City Council during its meeting Wednesday. The City Council approved a public hearing on the budget to be held Aug. 25. The meeting will be livestream, online at bit.ly/cityofdallastv and available through Spectrum Cable Channel 95. Individuals who wish to speak during the meeting must sign up with the City Secretary’s Office by calling 214-670-3738 or visiting https://dallascityhall.com/government/citysecretary/Pages/CCrules.aspx. A complete list of rules and regulations is also available on the website.
City Council member will also conduct community meetings in person and/or virtually to discuss the new budget Aug 12 through Aug 26.
Read the entire proposed budget at https://dallascityhall.com/departments/budget/financialtransparency/Pages/Upcoming-Budget.aspx.