Dallas City Leaders Support More Spending and Borrowing

Budget and bond issue straw votes taken

More borrowing and spending received support from Dallas City Council members Wednesday as a new report showed $10.2 billion in unfunded capital needs like city streets and buildings.

The big financial decisions followed months of budget meetings and pressure from residents and police union leaders.

City leaders took 25 straw votes on a new 2017 operating budget and proposed 2017 capital investment bond referendum. The straw votes are not binding, but they give city staff direction to prepare spending and policy documents for final votes in the near future.

The council endorsed across-the-board raises for police and firefighters by reducing the 549 police officers to be hired next year in the city manager’s initial budget plan.

City figures confirm the unions’ complaint that Dallas police and firefighters are leaving over low pay.

“They’re going to the suburbs. They’re not leaving the business. They’re going to the suburbs to make a lot more money,” said Dallas Firefighters Association president Jim McDade.

But the unions also argue low pay must be fixed before trying to boost hiring as much as the city manager first suggested.

Lt. Thomas Glover, president of the Dallas Black Police Association, said residents strongly supported Dallas police in recent weeks and that should translate into raises.

“I believe that as a city government they should do everything possible to give what constituents have said was important,” Glover said.

Details were still to be completed on exactly how large the raises will be after Wednesday’s straw votes. One called for 4.5 percent across-the-board raises with a small tax rate increase to pay for part of it. Another straw vote was to add 1.5 percent across the board with no tax increase.

At the same time, the city manager is still negotiating so called “Meet and Confer” wage agreements for police and firefighters.

“They will still be working on a three-year deal, but this gives a little guidance, that we need to pay our police and fire,” Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston said.

Dallas Animal Services received an additional $1.2 million in another straw vote, the additional amount recommended in a consultant report that came after the death of a dog attack victim earlier this year.

To help tackle capital needs like crumbling Dallas streets, the council directed staff to prepare an $800 million bond referendum for voters in 2017.

That was larger than another option to reduce borrowing and shift faster to a “pay as you go” method of funding capital investments and major repairs.

“You can see that we’re not going to get the streets at all if you use that math,” Councilman Rickey Callahan said of the smaller borrowing plan.

Members did not finalize what items to include from the list of needs for the $800 million bond referendum.

“There are some things on the list they have been asking for for a very long time,” said Councilman Casey Thomas.

Final decisions on the 2017 bond package are months away. A final vote on the 2017 operating budget is set for Sept. 21.

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