The Dallas County district attorney won a budget showdown Wednesday with county commissioners as they agreed to save 25 jobs and a specialized unit that was to be cut from his office.
The group of prosecutors, investigators and support staff deal with elder abuse, gangs, mortgage and voter fraud.
"And so the question became, 'Are you going prosecute family violence, or are you going to prosecute elder abuse, or you're not going to prosecute those cases. And so as it stands today, commissioners have seen the light of day," District Attorney Craig Watkins said.
Advocates for those issues lined up at the Commissioners Court meeting Wednesday and persuaded commissioners that eliminating the positions would threaten public safety.
"I think there was a little bit of a political ploy here to stir up their advocates and get them down here, but it is upsetting," said Commissioner Maurine Dickey about the proposed cuts.
Dickey said Watkins could have chosen less sensitive positions, but he said his office is severely understaffed with no room for cuts.
The county planned to eliminate more than 200 jobs to solve a shortfall of more than $20 million in the proposed budget, including more than 100 constable deputies assigned to traffic enforcement.
"The reason why we're able to work with the district attorney is that he has some money in his budget," Commissioner Mike Cantrell said.
The DA will be asked to shift money that was to be used for equipment to the specialized unit.
And commissioners may also consider an additional property tax rate hike before their final budget vote at the end of the month.
Last week, commissioners voted to increase the current rate of 22.81 cents to 24.31 cents. They may still go slightly higher to the "effective rate" of 24.41 cents.
The effective rate is the amount that would bring the county the same property tax revenue it received last year with higher property tax values. Declining appraisal values are a major reason for the county’s budget problem.
The county already complied with legal requirements to impose the effective rate.
"They can go up to the effective rate without posting or doing any of the public hearings," said Dallas County Budget Director Ryan Brown.
County officials are promising to start the budget process earlier next year, when a $22 million shortfall is already forecast.
"Starting in January, we'll have a new court," Cantrell said. "There will be a new approach to how the budget is handled and how we work with all the different departments."