A record $4.35 billion Dallas city budget, that received final approval Wednesday, puts public safety first, but some other features get additional money, including street repair.
The final vote after months of community budget meetings and city hall debate was 13 to 2, with members Cara Mendelsohn and Gay Donnell Willis opposed over concerns about rising property taxes.
In the final hours of this year’s budget debate, city council members restored a $10 million cut in police overtime money they approved just two weeks ago.
Some of the larger budget comes from COVID-19 relief money that will not be available in future years.
“It’s a pretty darn good budget. I think it’s the best budget we’ve ever seen,” Councilman Chad West said.
West voted in favor of the final budget even though he opposed restoring the police overtime money and led the overtime reduction two weeks earlier.
He wanted Police Chief Eddie Garcia to return to the City Council Public Safety Committee in the future if the overtime money was necessary.
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West said a preliminary audit report indicates there may have been a lack of overtime oversight at the police department in the past.
“56% of overtime was not accounted for in some way. That doesn't mean there was abuse in that 56%. It means we don't know,” West said.
Councilman Paul Ridley also voted against restoring the police overtime money Wednesday.
“I think we need accountability. I think the taxpayers expect that we will ask for accountability,” Ridley said.
Mayor Eric Johnson mentioned violence in Deep Ellum Sunday, from which a second of six shooting victims died Wednesday, as justification for the overtime money.
“For the time being, the police overtime budget is our backstop against rising violence in our city. Chief Garcia requested this funding to help supplement his efforts and I don’t think we should make him jump through hoops to get this money that he is telling us that we are absolutely going to need,” Johnson said.
The Dallas Police Department is hundreds of officers smaller than it was 10 years ago.
In a 12 to 3 overtime vote, most city council members agreed with Mayor Johnson.
“And I think it's important to continue to send the message that we are supporting our first responders, we are supporting our police officers, and we are equipping them with the tools they need, one of them being overtime while we are still understaffed,” Councilman Adam McGough said.
The new budget also includes money to hire 250 more officers, to pay police and firefighter raises, and buy dozens of additional squad cars to boost police patrol presence.
Mothers Against Police Brutality leaders Sara Mokuria asked the council to add no additional money for police. She said more investment is needed in Dallas neighborhoods to boost public safety.
“DPD has consistently over time proven to be an ineffective intervention in creating a safe public,” Mokuria said.
The budget does provide money for community programs to improve lighting and reduce blight, to treat substance abuse and expand mental health invention alternatives to police response.
There is also better pay to attract and retain 911 operators and trash collection workers, both city services that have suffered from lack of hiring difficulties.
Bad Dallas streets get a $150 million repair budget, the largest ever, to start a multi-year program to reverse decades of neglect.
But police get the largest budget slice, around $565 million, also the city’s largest police budget ever.
“We've seen some early signs of success from the police chief on a crime reduction plan but we have a lot more work to do,” Mayor Johnson said.
A small property tax rate reduction in the new budget is not enough to make up for rising Dallas property values. Most taxpayers will see higher bills.
Most council members said residents told them in community meetings that they want the services the new budget will provide and that they are willing to pay for it.
The new budget takes effect October 1.
The City of Dallas has received a total of $627 million in federal COVID-19 relief money, some of which was included in the new budget and some that had already been spent in the current year.