Dallas City Council members had their first chance Tuesday to speak about the city manager's proposed 2020 budget and many said they want more public safety spending added to the plan.
Citizens will now have the chance to sound off at a series of budget town hall meetings before city council members make final decisions on a new spending plan next month.
The budget comes in a year in which violent crime has spiked, with a police force 700 officers smaller than it was in 2011.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax said he heard the message delivered by city council members this spring when he prepared his new spending plan that was released Friday.
"There is no doubt that this is a public safety budget. We must commit to funding public safety increases now," Broadnax said as Tuesday's city council briefing began.
Newly elected council member Cara Mendelsohn said the budget percentage devoted to public safety is essentially the same as last year.
"I can't say this budget is a public safety budget when we really have not changed that," she said. "Nineteen new officers is not even a dent in what I, and the public, think our community needs. So I think that was kind of shocking."
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Broadnax said the net increase could be as many as 50 officers if fewer than expected leave the force.
It includes a 33-cent property tax rate increase to raise $4.5 million additional dollars. It amounts to around $8 more for the average $303,000 Dallas homestead.
The money is to help fund public safety raises that are intended to help attract new public safety employees and persuade more of those already with the city to stay.
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said he was encouraged with the commitment to increase public safety pay and benefits.
"I think they have finally heard what all those citizens have told them at all those community meetings, we need to shore up our police and fire," Mata said.
Several council members said they opposed any property tax increase, but still wanted to see public safety improvements.
Tennell Atkins recalled how 2009 and 2010 budgets led to the peak in Dallas police manpower of 3,690 in 2011.
"We decided, 'Hey, we're not going to raise the tax rate. We're going to make sure we take care of our public safety," Atkins said.
City officials said a pending police efficiency study may help the force make better use of the offices it has.
"It allows us to be able to assess, what I believe to be the true opportunity to enhance the level of policing in this city," Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said.
But results promised months ago have not been made public and several council members said it makes budget decisions difficult.
"Right now, I'm just totally in the blind so it's really hard to navigate that,” Councilman Adam McGough said.
Dallas Firefighters Union President Jim McDade praised the inclusion of money for public safety raises and pension improvements, but said needed fire department service improvements were not included in the city manager's proposal.
"As far as public safety and enhancing the services provided to the citizens, that's simply not there," McDade said.
For instance, McDade said a new fire engine company is needed for Downtown Dallas because of the rise in the number of downtown residents and increased calls for service.
Councilman Casey Thomas said money should be included to address the root causes of crime.