UPDATED at 8 p.m. with additional details on the spending plan.
Dallas council members on Wednesday approved the city’s largest spending plan of $4.35 billion, supporting more money for police, roads and other services that affect residents.
The spending plan, which is $500 million more than the overall budget adopted last September, is largely boosted by federal money and increased property and sales tax revenues. The budget takes effect Oct. 1.
In a departure from last year’s contentious discussions on the city’s yearly spending plan, the council on Wednesday approved the budget in a 13-2 vote. Council members Cara Mendelsohn and Gay Donnell Willis voted against it.
Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas, said she wouldn’t approve the budget because she didn’t believe a planned 0.3-cent property tax rate decrease to 77.33 cents per $100 valuation was enough. Donnell Willis, who represents Northwest Dallas, didn’t give a reason for her “no” vote.
Some of the highlights of the new budget include:
- Money to hire 250 new police officers; additional patrol cars, body cameras and other equipment.
- A plan to hire more than 60 new civilian staffers for the 911 call center to make up for staff shortages and call-taking delays
- Raising minimum pay and salaries for first responders.
- $150 million to repave hundreds of miles of roads as part of a plan to spend $300 million over the next two years to redo 1,700 lane miles.
- Money for more street markings, street signs and speed bumps to address residential neighborhood traffic concerns
- Pay for a pilot program aimed at deterring street racing with barriers in major intersections.
- Money for a program to begin cleaning more than 1,300 neighborhood alleys that have overgrown weeds and illegal dumping; turning 40 of them into trails with improved paths and lighting.
- Contributing $25 million to a $72 million regional rapid-rehousing program to help more than 2,700 people experiencing homelessness get into apartments.
- Installing $10 million worth of water and sewer infrastructure to encourage more housing construction.
- More than $11 million is planned for preserving affordable housing as well as water and sewer infrastructure improvements to southern Dallas areas, including Joppa, Tenth Street Historical District and 5 Mile Neighborhood.
- Adding Wi-Fi to more than 60 city park buildings; $40 million is earmarked for a planned initiative to improve residential broadband access.
- A sanitation monthly service fee increase of $3.78 aimed at addressing long delays in garbage, recycling, brush and bulk trash pickup, as well as shortages of truck drivers who are paid under industry standards and temporary workers who have been earning even less.
- Starting pay for sanitation truck drivers would increase from $16.50 an hour to $20.
An adjustment made by council members before the final vote added $10 million to the police department’s overtime budget. The move bumps the budget starting next month to $28 million and reverses a Sept. 9 vote to put that money into a reserve fund that police officials would have had to get council members’ permission to use. Police will get nearly $565.9 million overall this coming fiscal year.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who proposed the amendment, said the reversal “puts public safety first.” He said that placing the money in a reserve fund created a hurdle that no other department had to face. He cited the mass shooting in Deep Ellum over the weekend as an example of why officers need all available resources to respond to emergency calls.
“For the time being, the police overtime budget is our backstop against rising violence in our city,” Johnson said. “Chief [Eddie] García requested this funding to help supplement his efforts, and I don’t think we should make him jump through hoops to get this money that he’s telling us that we’re absolutely going to need.”
Council member Chad West, who originally proposed putting the overtime money in a reserve fund and was one of the three votes against Johnson’s amendment, said he didn’t view it as “jumping through hoops to simply ask for a briefing before the funds are automatically released to DPD.”
“I do not believe that supporting public safety and calling for accountability are mutually exclusive requests,” said West, who represents North Oak Cliff and the Bishop Arts District. “Our residents want both a strong police force and fiscal accountability. Anything less is completely unacceptable.”
Council members Jaime Resendez and Paul Ridley also voted against the mayor’s amendment.
West said that moving the money promoted responsible use of taxpayer dollars and would prevent overreach from the state. A new state law that took effect this month penalizes Texas cities with populations more than 250,000 if they cut their police budgets more than the previous fiscal year.
Police overtime money has been a contentious topic among Dallas council members for at least the last two years. The police department has needed more money than planned to cover overtime payouts every year since 2013 and estimated it would need a record amount, $34.9 million, by the end of September.
The current overtime budget was adopted at $17 million. In 2020 the department needed $33.1 million — $6.6 million more than budgeted — for overtime.
Some council members have expressed concerns that the overtime system can be exploited by police staff and result in wasted taxpayer dollars, and others have argued that cutting any money from the department hampers efforts to keep residents safe.
Backlash followed a council vote last year to divert $7 million initially planned for police overtime to other public safety-related initiatives like hiring more civilian police staff to free up officers from desk jobs.
A preliminary city audit released earlier this month found no apparent waste or abuse of Dallas police overtime between 2018 and 2020. But City Auditor Mark Swann told The Dallas Morning News that his office couldn’t fully evaluate more than half of the sample cases in their review because the overtime hadn’t been properly recorded, requested, approved or didn’t include supporting documents.
A final audit on police overtime, which would include an analysis and recommendations on police records keeping, should be released by the end of the year.
Council members West, Ridley and Omar Narvaez all expressed concern that the interim audit concluded there was no waste and abuse of overtime without having all the details available on all the cases that were under review.
New tax rate
The council also set the new tax rate at 77.33 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, lowered from 77.63 cents. A typical Dallas homeowner who owns a house worth $255,720, the current median market value, would save around $7 a year.
After being set at 79.7 cents per $100 valuation in 2010, Dallas’ property tax rate has decreased every year since 2016. But the city still has one of the highest property tax rates in Texas. Only El Paso, which has a 90.73 cents per $100 valuation set last year, has a higher one.
Mendelsohn proposed seven budget amendments, each aimed at further cutting the tax rate from 0.02 cents to 0.13 cents. Her suggestions to get there included cuts to various city staff positions, reducing overtime money budgeted for civilian staffers and decreasing money to help implement city staff pay raises.
All of Mendelsohn’s proposals failed to get a majority vote.
Before voting no on the overall budget, she said she believed the influx of federal dollars should have led to a deeper cut in the property tax rate.
“If we can’t reduce our tax rate this year,” she said, “we’re never going to be able to do it.”