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Three Takeaways From the Mayor’s State of the City Address Thursday Night

While you were watching the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson gave his State of the City address. Here are the key points.
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Courtesy of the Dallas Regional Chamber

Mayor Eric Johnson addressed the city last night on conservative radio station WBAP, right as the Dallas Cowboys kicked off against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s unclear how many picked Johnson’s Thursday night address over the region’s most popular sports team fighting for a playoff spot, but the mayor addressed his peculiar choice of venue within the first minute of his speech.

“In past years, we have made the State of the City address an in-person event,” he said. “But this year, in an increasingly complex world that is fraught with uncertainty, I decided to keep things simple. No stage. No podium. No applause breaks. Just an honest conversation with you about Dallas.”

That honest conversation, he said, would address what he called the “four P’s”: “Public safety. Property taxes. Parks. And potholes.”

The entire speech, which is required by the city charter, was about 20 minutes long. You can read it and access the audio here. But here are three takeaways from last night’s address:

If you build it, he believes they will come. The bulk of Johnson’s speech centered on parks, where he spoke of the city’s goal of having a park or trail within a 10-minute walk of every resident in Dallas.  He also believes that parks will be a better driver of housing development in Dallas. In short, he says, “…developers who are building in Dallas have said that they want to build near parks.” Build parks, and the development will follow, he argued. That’s why he says it is essential that voters approve $350 million for parks in next year’s $1.1 billion package. The election will likely be held in May. (The bond task force recommended the city spend $375 million for streets and transportation; $200 million for improvements to city facilities; $100 million for housing, homelessness, and economic development;  and $75 million for flood control.)

Housing advocates have requested a larger piece of the bond pie, pointing to the shortage of affordable housing, in particular. Thursday night, Johnson said the city can’t move the needle on improving housing availability the way private developers can.

“We need more housing in Dallas. But historically, the government is simply not good at playing the role of a housing developer,” he said. “Spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a handful of houses or a couple hundred apartments here and there isn’t the answer here, and it won’t reduce your rent or your mortgage a single cent.”

He still wants to lower property taxes. He acknowledged that the most costly portion of a homeowner’s property tax bill comes from school district taxes and praised Gov. Greg Abbott and the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature for passing property tax reforms that would lower them. Then Johnson said he plans to continue to push to reduce the city property tax rate much. He says his organizing will begin earlier next year, pledging to ask the council’s Government Performance and Financial Management Committee to begin planning now “for a 2025 city budget that holds spending flat and cuts your taxes.”

In September, the council voted to approve a 73.57 cents per $100 valuation tax rate, lower than City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s recommendation but also higher than what the mayor called his “no new revenue” rate. He was joined by Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn. In his address Thursday night, Johnson said that five council members voted for “real tax relief,” including him. More precisely, five members voted against the 73.57 tax rate, feeling it could be a little lower, but only three members—Johnson, Mendelsohn, and Councilman Chad West—voted for the no new revenue rate that would hold the budget flat.

Law enforcement and public safety earn praise. Johnson praised the Dallas Police Department, citing yearly declines in offenses like robbery and aggravated assault over the past two years, attributing that mainly to Chief Eddie Garcia’s violent crime reduction plan. “This year, violent crime will fall again — a remarkable third-straight year of reductions,” he said. “Aggravated assault, rape, and robbery are all continuing to go down.”

But he also acknowledged that the city’s murder rate, which has declined over the last two years, was up. “I am not at all happy about this,” the mayor said.

To improve efforts to hire and retain officers, Johnson said that the city would need to think seriously about shoring up the city’s police and fire pension system, which faces a $3.5 billion shortfall. Johnson also said that the city would need to explore more options as it fights to reduce crime. 

“We must also explore every public safety solution, and everyone must be part of it, including our prosecutors, our judges, our faith leaders, and our community organizations,” Johnson said.

And then he was off the air, and the Cowboys closed the first quarter up 3.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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