Several Dallas City Council members Monday called for a property tax rate hike as the council began debating the proposed city budget released by City Manager Mary Suhm Friday.
Council members Tennell Atkins, Vonciel Hill, Carolyn Davis Steve Salazar and Dwaine Caraway spoke strongly in favor of a rate hike to ease another year of deep budget cuts to parks and libraries.
Pauline Medrano spoke against the proposed cuts but stopped short of calling for higher taxes.
Mayor Tom Leppert opposes a rate hike and Manager Mary Suhm said she did not recommend it in the budget "given the economic climate."
A series of community meetings on the budget begin Monday night and public reaction to proposed service cuts could help determine the final council vote on taxes.
Koop said the Dallas property tax rate of 74.79 cents is higher than some suburbs but lower than others, and raising it would be a mistake.
Parks Director Paul Dyer said reversing proposed cuts to recreation center hours would cost about $4 million. A 1 cent increase in the property tax rate could bring $8 million to the city budget.
Suhm's proposed $2.7 billion city budget avoided calling for a tax rate high because of higher than expected property values reported in July.
"The really good thing for us is that the property base did not go down as much as we thought it was going to go," she said. "That was about $20 million. That was a huge help, and I think the budget would have looked a lot different if we had had to find that $20 million."
Suhm's proposal to deal with the $130 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year still calls for deep spending cuts -- including 450 employee layoffs, unpaid furlough days for all employees, wage reductions for civilian workers and service cuts.
Parks, recreation centers and libraries will again face reductions, and past cuts to street maintenance and other city services will not be restored.
Suhm said city services should not remain at this level in the future.
"I'm happy that we've been able to maintain them where they are, but ultimately, I don't think they should stay there for a long time," she said.
Suhm said her budget is intended to position the city for a rebound when revenues improve.
"We're immensely competitive when you look at us nationally," she said. "We're not having the economic challenges that other cities do. We're growing."
Mayor Tom Leppert said a tax increase would threaten that competitive position.
"If we can grow the economy, that's going to address the issues," he said. "That's going to provide more resources. Increasing taxes doesn’t help the people we have today, and it sure doesn't encourage more people and businesses to move to our city."
But several City Council members say cuts have been too severe and a small tax rate hike is needed.
"You look at our curb appeal, and you see high weeds," Councilman Tennell Atkins said. "Would you invest in the city that's not got a great curb appeal?"
Atkins said voters were warned that a tax rate increase would be needed to pay for the bond issue approved in 2006.
"And we have not done that, so therefore, we are suffering with customer service," he said. "We've got all these layoffs."
Final budget decisions will come in September.
Before then, a series of community meetings will be held to take public input on the spending plan. Click here to see the schedule.