After months of fighting over defunding police versus boosting public safety, a new City of Dallas budget, approved Wednesday night, reduces police overtime but uses the money for other public safety purposes.
The budget, totaling $3.8 billion, includes $500 million for the Dallas Police Department budget. That's about a third of the $1.4 billion general fund.
Despite protests calling to defund the police, a compromise was found through a budget amendment that includes a $7 million cut to DPD's overtime budget of $24 million. The amendment was approved in a 11-4 vote.
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"This is an unprecedented year to make R.E.A.L. Change, reimagining public safety in ways that are responsible, equitable, accountable and legitimate," City Manager T.C. Broadnax said. "This budget allows us to now build on a strong start and take real action in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1."
At the end of the night, council passed the budget in a final vote of 9-6 that came more than 12 hours after the meeting started. Those who voted against it stated they didn't support cuts to police funding while others said the money didn't go far enough to address needs in the city.
Mayor Eric Johnson, who voted against the proposed amendments, said final vote was the closest in Dallas since 2010. That year, the budget was adopted on an 8-7 vote.
"Today, I voted against the proposed Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget. While I am not the first mayor to vote against an annual budget, this wasn’t a vote that I took lightly," Mayor Johnson said in a statement. "Many high-priority items made it into the final budget. But ultimately, in this pandemic, I could not support a budget in which we didn’t touch the bureaucracy and failed to share in the pain with residents in any discernible way. This budget underfunds public safety and street infrastructure and leaves the tax rate as one of the highest in the state, making us less competitive for anyone looking to make their lives here and move their businesses here."
The budget talks on Wednesday left many police defunding activists angry, claiming there was too little spending on social service reform.
Nearly 100 people signed up to speak to the city council during the meeting, with many of them threatening to campaign against Mayor Eric Johnson and current city council members in future elections.
“We are getting a response of a slap in the face and it's completely unacceptable,” said speaker Amber Brown.
Earlier in the year, after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd at the hands of police in that city, Dallas demonstrators supported cutting $200 million from the Dallas Police Department that gets more than $500 million.
Thirteen of the speakers Wednesday even opposed funding for Dallas Police helicopter maintenance. City council members heard testimony from police officials about use of helicopters to track chases and street racers in a safer way than using squad cars on the street.
In recent weeks, the city council had also heard strong opposition from community leaders to any reduction in police spending with Dallas facing an increase in violence for the second year in a row.
A few speakers Wednesday echoed that side of the issue.
“When there is no rule of law then the lawless will rule,” speaker Susan Fountain said.
A planned $7 million reduction in the Dallas Police overtime budget had been strongly opposed by community leaders including Mayor Eric Johnson, who labeled it “defunding police.”
"I want to congratulate the Mayor for his starring role as the demagogue in this year’s budget process, ramping up the fear of crime and denouncing other council members for quote 'backroom deals,'" said activist John Fullinwider with Mothers Against Police Brutality.
Councilman Chad West who helped broker a compromise amendment said the Mayor's rhetoric was not accurate.
“No one on council has tried to put an amendment forward to defund the police previously and it's not happening now,” Councilman Chad West said.
The compromise sponsored by West and five other members shifted the use of that overtime money to entirely public safety purposes in response to criticism.
One change increased hiring of police civilians from 42 to 95 to put more officers from desk jobs back on the street. Supporters of that change said it could reduce the need for police overtime.
The overtime money will also fund better lighting in crime-prone areas.
“Mom always said don't go in dark alleys. So, we're trying to light some areas and take care of some blighted areas where criminal elements happen,” Council Member Paula Blackmon said.
The compromise amendment passed 11 to 4 with Mayor Johnson leading the opposition.
“I like the goals of some of those programs but the way you chose to fund them is not reasonable,” Johnson said.
The budget includes $30 million the city manager found from sources other than police cuts to fund expanded mental health care and mobile outreach to help homeless people.
“We are still committed and able to listen to the constituency on both spectrums,” Councilman Adam Bazaldua said.
Bazaldua was an early supporter of what he called “reimagining public safety,” but he denied that is the same as defunding police.
“We thought it was important to not surround our decision making on a hashtag or a word that has been completely politicized,” Bazaldua said.
The new Dallas budget also includes a small property tax rate decrease of $0.0003, but rising property values could more than make up that decline for many property owners.
"City staff and the Mayor and City Council worked many hours to pass a financially prudent budget that maintains essential City services during one of the most challenging times for our community," Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich said. "It is always important that we make smart financial decisions, even more so in such an economically challenging time. We balanced the FY 2020-21 budget, despite estimating we will have $62.6 million less revenue than we had planned. Further, the budget reduces the tax rate for the fifth straight year."
The new budget takes effect October 1.