Several Dallas City Council members are renewing their support for a property tax rate hike after hearing the latest forecast for declining street conditions with a third straight year of reduced maintenance spending in a proposed city budget.
The briefing was presented at a City Council budget workshop Wednesday.
City Manager Mary Suhm told council members that pothole-patching crews would not be reduced, but that cuts to other street maintenance procedures would likely increase the number of potholes.
“I can’t stand here and swear that every pothole is going to be fixed," she said. "As long as you go without this maintenance, the more potholes you have."
City leaders are working to solve an expected $130 million shortfall in the next fiscal year, which takes effect Oct. 1.
The street maintenance reductions come in addition to proposed cuts in libraries, parks and recreation centers. Civilian employees currently take unpaid furlough days to save the city money, and plans call for adding police and firefighters to the furlough list. The size of the police force could also shrink as officers leave the force after several years of police force expansion.
“I kind of feel like our budget exercise this year is like potholes,” Councilman Dave Neumann said. “We’re doing temporary patches, hoping that in the long term, we can survive that.”
But several members support a tax rate increase instead of further service reductions. And they pushed harder for it Wednesday after hearing the street repair report.
“We need to look at a small tax increase and dealing with some of these major concerns that we have,” Councilwoman Carolyn Davis said.
“You’re going to be known as the 1981 council that let everything go to crap,” Councilman Steve Salazar told the others. “You have to address the issues of the services of the city.”
Mayor Tom Leppert said the quality of Dallas streets is still nowhere near as bad as it was in the '80s and a tax rate increase would be a mistake at this time when the Dallas economy is on the verge of recovery.
“Long-term, we’ve got to have a strong city, and the only way to have a strong city is with a growing economy,” Leppert said.
The mayor and several other members said a bond issue is needed to borrow money for capital improvements such as street reconstruction.
“We’re going to maintain all the potholes, and we’ll deal with all that situation, but the big street repairs -- that never comes from the operating budget. That’s got to be a bond issue,” Leppert said.
Councilwoman Angela Hunt said borrowing money for reconstructing streets would be more expensive than the maintenance that is being deferred.
“I believe it will cost us more than if we invest now in slurry seal and micro surfacing,” she said.
A bond referendum would not likely be held until May 2011. Decisions on the next year's operating budget must come in September.
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