Dallas City Council Members Thursday gave first approval to a record $4.3 billion budget after last-minute controversy over police overtime money.
The spending plan benefits from $355 million in federal COVID-19 relief money. It includes a small property tax rate reduction. Council Members Cara Mendelsohn and Adam McGough voted against it. Mendelsohn has repeatedly said she wanted a larger tax rate cut. Most taxpayers will pay higher bills due to soaring property values.
There was a more divided 8 to 7 vote to divert $10 million in police overtime money to a reserve account.
“We're sick and tired of not getting the responses when we call. So, I can't support any handcuffing of these officers,” Council Member Carolyn Arnold said.
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Supporters of that budget amendment said a new state law, passed after calls for police “defunding” last year now forbids reducing city police spending below the amount included in this new budget.
Councilman Chad West made the motion to start this year with a lower amount for police.
“It gives us and the council more flexibility in the future if there are budget problems based on COVID or anything else,” West said.
Several Council Members said it was a symbolic vote to respond to state legislators who imposed their will on city budgets.
“Making sure that we continue to keep control at a local level with our local budgets instead of being strong-arm bullied by those in Austin in order to score political points,” Councilman Adam Bazaldua said.
Police will get the overtime money back from the reserve account and Chief Eddie Garcia said the money will be needed.
“Taking $10 million from this budget for police overtime is a bad idea, just as it was last year. And we're going to go over the budget just like we did last year,” Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn said.
Even with the overtime diversion, Dallas Police still get $8 million more than last year in their $583 million portion of the city budget, the most of any department.
The police budget calls for hiring and training 250 more officers, although some of the hiring could be offset by officers leaving. More squad cars will also be added to increase patrol visibility.
Several City Council speakers asked that police receive no additional money and that greater spending be added to programs that prevent crime.
“Adding police does not add safety. They only respond to crime,” speaker Carvell Bowens said.
The speakers said their research shows that Dallas will spend about $422 for every resident on police compared with about $49 on housing and homeless solutions.
“If you are committed to building the Dallas that we deserve, spend more money on services for our communities, not the police department,” Tearyne Almendariz said.
The speaker failed to sway the City Council.
A second approval of the Dallas city budget is required later in September before it takes effect October 1 and additional amendments are still possible, but Thursday’s vote is a big step after months of public meetings and input from constituents.