New Dallas Budget Targets Recruiting, Retention of Police Officers

For the first time in five years a new Dallas budget won unanimous approval Wednesday from the city council. The priority this year was public safety.

"Winning unanimity on a budget in a city with 14 diverse council districts is obviously not an easy thing to do," Mayor Eric Johnson said. "This budget is a win. It's a win for our residents, it's a win for our taxpayers, and it's a win for our police and firefighters."

The goal is to boost the recruiting and retention of Dallas police officers.

The budget included pay raises that match average public safety pay in the suburbs that have been lured Dallas police officers away for higher pay.

A record 82 police recruits began a new Dallas Police Academy class Wednesday.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said it demonstrated that the new salary structure was already producing results. And Mata said applications for the Dallas Police Department were up more than 40%.

"So yes, that increase, that starting pay is going to have an effect. Retention? We have officers that left here because of pay. They're coming back," Mata said.

But some citizens left city hall unhappy after Wednesday's budget vote.

A group that calls itself "Our City, Our Budget" asked for much greater spending on social programs.

Among other things, the group wanted 24-hour recreation centers on weekends, expanded cultural programs, benefit coordinators to help people access aide programs and ticket forgiveness for low-income residents.

"The only effective way to fight crime is to fight poverty. And that does not mean criminalizing those who are in poverty," said Kristian Hernandez, a supporter of the group.

Council members declined to make the changes the group requested Wednesday, but councilman Omar Narvaez said progress on some of the issues were already in the budget, including expanded access to recreation centers.

A spike in murder and other violent crime this year attracted the greatest attention from city leaders as they debated a new budget. The Dallas Police Department is around 700 officers smaller than it was in 2011. More police officers and greater public safety was the overwhelming request from residents at a series of public meetings on the new city budget the past few weeks.

"It is a lot of things that folks asked for, but there's a lot of things still missing from it. But the good thing is some seeds were planted," Narvaez said.

Narvaez and several other members said they would push for more of the social programs next year.

"The very definition of a budget means tough decisions, limited resources. So this year's budget prioritizes public safety," Johnson said.

Mata said he also supported more effort to help people avoid a life of crime.

"Keeping them out of the gang culture, making them feel wanted, those are the kind of programs that need to be increased," he said.

Council members thanked one another for the spirit of cooperation they showed this year.

Councilman Adam Medrano said it was the best of seven Dallas budgets he's negotiated.

"A lot of us here really got down and worked together as a team and I just wanted to say that I'm very proud of that," Medrano said.

The council refused to accept the small property tax increase City Manager T.C. Broadnax proposed last month. The tax rate will remain 77.766 cents per $100 assessed value.

The overall city budget is more than $3.8 billion, with a general fund of $1,438,064,000.

Even with the same property tax rate, the city gets around $40 million more general fund dollars than it received last year from rising property values so many taxpayers will still pay higher taxes.

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