Dallas Budget Crisis Compounded by ‘Defunding' Police Demands

No final decisions at input meeting Wednesday

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Dallas City Council members heard an earful Wednesday about demands for new social services at the expense of police.

A forecast Dallas city budget shortfall of up to $100 million is compounded by those demands that demonstrators have voiced in weeks of protests.

The demands were echoed by 75 people who signed up to speak to the City Council at a budget meeting Wednesday.

No final decisions were made at the meeting, but city officials said they have heard the message.

“When we think about equity, when we think about poverty, when we think about segregation, all of the other issues, all of our priorities are tied to this,” City Council Member Jaime Resendez said. “I do think moving forward is going to take a lot of bold and unpopular moves to get to where we want to be and where we need to be as a city.”

The demands come as conventions have been canceled, hotels are empty and city sales tax revenue has disappeared. The coronavirus pandemic that made people sick has also made the city budget ill.

Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich said employee furloughs, spending reductions and COVID-19 relief money from the federal government should be sufficient to solve the current budget year shortfall, which was narrowed to $10 million Wednesday.

But, the 2020-2021 budget that takes effect October 1 is a different story. That shortfall is forecast at between $60 and $100 million.

“There are going to be some very, very difficult choices for the council. I can't say that we won't have service cuts next year,” Reich said.

Even council members who favor “reimagining” public safety are not saying they want to “disband” the police department, as some demonstrators support.

Just a year ago, the Dallas City Council unanimously approved a budget increase for police to increase salaries and help hire more officers, ignoring requests then by some of the same demonstrators for a ‘poverty budget.’

“I don't believe we need to decrease the number of officers in patrol. I think we need to continue to increase the number of officers in patrol,” Councilman Lee Kleinman said.

Kleinman in one of 10 City Council Members who supported a memo asking the City Manager T.C. Broadnax to consider adjustments to the public safety budget, which takes more than 60% of the Dallas General Fund.

Many of those members have supported calls for expanding social services to help reverse spending patterns of the past.

“Decision were made intentionally to deprive certain neighborhoods. We have to own up to that,” Council Member Carolyn Arnold said.

Councilman Casey Thomas said the call is for ‘equity,’ which is different than ‘equality.’ Equity he said, requires spending more in certain areas to make up for deficiencies of the past.

“Equity means we are willing to acknowledge that in the past we have used racist and unfair practices,” Thomas said. “We are committed to using our equity lens in developing this entire budget.”

Other Council Members who did not sign the memo are not speaking against equity. But Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said city finances to not permit providing every social service.  She said issues like mental health are a Dallas County responsibility.

“When everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority,” Mendelsohn said.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax said he has found more than 100 past action plans prepared by the city or partner agencies over the years, many of which were never acted upon.

“Quite honestly the needs are so vast, we've got to get one specific direction about where the priorities are,” he said.

Broadnax said he welcomed the opportunity to receive input from Council Members and the public on Wednesday. He and his staff will return in August with a balanced budget proposal using what they have heard.

Mayor Eric Johnson sent Broadnax a memo Friday suggesting Broadnax and his top administrator should take pay cuts as managers in private enterprises have in this economic downturn. 

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