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Local News

Here Are the Public Safety Topics Council Will Wrestle With This Budget Season

Let’s all get on the same page.
By Shawn Shinneman |
Kelsey Shoemaker

Today, the City Council is taking its first hack at the budget for the next fiscal year, which City Manager T.C. Broadnax unveiled on Friday. With the city’s eye on a police officer shortage and heightened crime, Broadnax is calling it a “public safety-focused” budget. Not everyone agrees. Let’s run through a few things we think you should keep in mind. He’s asking for a tax rate increase.

The budget includes a tax hike to go toward public safety. It would raise the property tax bill on a $300,000 home by about $8, creating an extra $4.5 million in revenue for the city. The increase equals .33 cents for every $100 in assessed value. That money would go toward public safety and would technically be the first rate hike since 2011.

If you’re going by the effective tax rate—which is the rate that, given increasing property valuations and new construction, would keep bills flat—that’s not quite the case. The city would’ve had to drop its rate rather significantly to save homeowners increases on their tax bills due to the impact that skyrocketing valuations have had upon tax rolls. As Council member Lee Kleinman once told our Matt Goodman, “it is Council’s responsibility to offset the increases in valuation by lowering the tax rate so that out of pocket taxes do not go up.”

It gets tricky, then, because some Council members are billing it as a $45 million increase. Projections show that new construction and property value increases will already saddle voters with somewhere around $40.5 million more to pay.

Considering the city’s growth in commercial and residential property values over the last year, the Council could conceivably keep the tax bills the same year-over-year by lowering the property tax rate by about 3.28 cents for every $100 in assessed value. During Tuesday’s briefing, East Dallas Council member Paula Blackmon asked about the consequences of doing this. Elizabeth Reich, the city’s CFO, says it would be impossible to take $45 million from the proposed budget without hurting public safety, and that such a move would result in closed facilities and services cut. “There’s not a scalpel approach to a $45 million cut,” she said. Broadnax clearly believes we need the extra $4.5 million.

The city has seen a police staffing study. You can’t. Yet. One difficulty in discussions of a budget that will be defined by its attention to police: city staff has peeked at the long-awaited draft of a study on police staffing needs but has not released it to Council or the public. Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune, who has seen the draft, says it will contain no “magic number” the police staff should reach. Rather, he told Council, it will present “hypotheticals” to spur discussion about staffing numbers that can actually change response times and make a true impact on public safety.

Without it, though, Council member Adam McGough, of North Dallas, says he feels “totally in the blind” about staffing needs.

Dallas could be headed for market-based police salaries. The city approved a minimum starting salary of $60,000 last year, but concerns remain, in particular, about the ability to retain more experienced talent. Fortune says a market-based structure is the No. 1 thing that can help turn around retention problems.

There are concerns it’s not enough. The budget on the table calls for the city to spend 57.7 percent on police and fire next budget year. This year, it’s 57.2 percent. “That’s really not the leap that I was hoping for,” Council member Cara Mendelsohn, of Far North Dallas, said Tuesday morning. She took issue with the city’s plan to add 19 officers next year—taking into account the expected attrition. “That’s not even a dent in what I think the public and I think our community needs,” she said. “So I think that was kind of shocking.”

Council is back at it this afternoon. Watch here.

Update: By a 10-5 vote, Council members authorized the city to move forward with public hearings on September 4 and September 11 and to vote on the rate on September 18. In doing so, they set the max rate at 78 cents per $100 million valuation, enabling the Broadnax-proposed budget that bumps up the tax rate to bring in an extra $4.5 million in revenue. Amendments to knock that maximum down to the effective tax rate or keep it unchanged from last year each failed.

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