Dallas Budget Ax Swings

Small solutions still leave big budget problems

Furloughs, fee hikes and spending cuts trimmed the current Dallas city budget Wednesday -- but a much bigger shortfall remains unresolved in the next year's budget.

A two-day furlough approved by the Dallas City Council will extend the Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays by an extra day for all city employees except police and firefighters. City offices will be closed on those days for extra energy savings.

Councilman Tennell Atkins expressed reluctance over furloughs.

"We’ve got 13,000 employees, and when you cut their pay, what is the morale?" he said. "How do they feel?"

But reduction was overwhelmingly approved.

"It’s better at this time to entertain this move versus laying them off," Councilman Dwaine Caraway said. "We’re just to that point."

The city also eliminated the $10,000 recruitment bonuses that have been paid to attract police applicants. Officials said they have a large pool of candidates and no longer need to pay bonuses.

But Councilwoman Elba Garcia said the bonuses should not be eliminated.

"The reason we have the quality of applicants we have today is because of this incentive pay," Garcia said.

A senior citizen and disabled resident homestead tax exemption increase which has been discussed for several years was delayed for another year.

Councilman Mitchell Rasansky said he was opposed to the delay.

"Everything is going up, and these people need this type of savings," he said.

The city also increased parking fees and fines.

All together, the changes raised nearly $12 million for the current Dallas city budget.

"But on reality guys, this is barely scratch of the challenge we have coming," Councilman Dave Neumann said.

The most recent projection from the city manager calls for a $100 million shortfall in the 2009-2010 budget that takes effect in October. City leaders have said they intend to avoid a tax rate hike to solve the problem.

"We’re going to continue to work on it, that’s our responsibility," said Mayor Tom Leppert.  "Clearly the economy is a big challenge. We’ve got to make sure that we do the right thing."

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