Farmers Branch Legal Fight Costs Big Bucks

Bill over immigration ordinance is $1.5 million and growing

Farmers Branch discussed Friday ways to raise revenues and cut costs after the city dipped into its reserves to cover costs related to ordinances banning landlords from renting to illegal immigrants.

The city has spent more than $1.5 million in legal fees since voters first approved the ordinance. The third incarnation of the measure is currently tied up in federal court.

"What we told residents from the beginning is that this would be a costly battle, it would take several years, and we're probably at best guess halfway through it," Mayor Tim O'Hare said.

The city may also be on the hook for another $900,000 in legal fees because of a court loss relating to Ordinance 2903. The city is contesting the amount of the lawsuit reward, but has already taken it out of the city's reserve fund, just in case.

Farmers Branch also dipped into its reserve fund to cover the cost of severance packages for employees laid off last summer, according to the Dallas Morning News.

At an all-day work session Friday, City Council members started thinking about how to raise revenue and cut costs if the poor economy and mounting legal fees force them to make hard budget decisions later.

"The major concerns we have right now are the revenue pressures with the economy being down," city Budget Director Charles Cox said. "Both property values and sales tax are really the predominant concern."

Farmers Branch resident Candice Blanton said she has mixed feelings about the battle over illegal immigrants.

"I guess I feel compassion for the immigrants, because I know they want to better their lives, but I do have concerns about what that brings into our city," she said.

But Blanton said she is growing concerned over the amount of city taxpayer money being spent on the long battle.

"I hope there would be big results after spending money on something like that," she said.

Former mayoral candidate Gene Bledsoe said Farmers Branch residents were misled about the attempt to ban rentals to illegal immigrants.

"They didn't really understand how expensive and how protracted this fight was going to be," he said.

But O'Hare said the city will not give up its legal battle.

"It's not free to engage in any kind of litigation," he said. "From the day this thing was talked about, we knew we would be sued, we told people it would cost money and if the residents want us to keep going, we're going to keep going."

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