New Dallas Leaders Seeking More Police Get Dose of Budget Reality

New Mayor to call special meeting Monday for more budget input

Newly elected Dallas City Leaders, just sworn in Monday, received a dose of bitter reality Tuesday at a budget briefing.

With a spike in violent crime, including around 100 murders so far this year, residents had given the new Dallas City Council Members strong instructions on the campaign trail.

"Every one of us has heard over and over again that we're concerned about public safety," Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.

Complicating matters, new Mayor Eric Johnson and the six new Council Members learned Tuesday that a $5.3 million shortfall is forecast for the new 2020 budget. It will require cuts.

"Campaign season is over. We're here to govern now," Councilman Casey Thomas said.

If future restrictions on city taxes included in new state laws had been applied to the current 2019 city budget, Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich said it would have reduced current city spending by $25 million.

Reich said a $25 million budget cut would have required eliminating 143 police officers, 2 fire stations, 4 recreation centers, one library, 17 parks and 20 code enforcement officers.

"There is a choice to be made," Reich said about future Dallas budget priorities. "There are other things that might address crime that are not necessarily a cop on every corner."

The Dallas Police force is currently around 700 officers smaller than it was at the peak in 2011.

Chief U. Renee Hall said a staffing study will be finished by the end of July to help justify how many more officers Dallas really needs. 

In addition to more officers, higher pay to keep current officers from leaving creates a double demand for more cash, despite the predicted $5.3 million shortfall.

"We want to see other things included in the budget, but I think we have to remain fiscally responsible and also understanding of this potential gap," Council Member Jennifer Gates said.

Johnson said he knew the immediate options for public safety would require squeezing cash from other places in the city budget.

"But the long term solution to paying for more police officers in this city is going to have to be something beyond reallocating funds from other things like libraries and parks," Johnson said. "That kind of money isn't there unless you're saying, 'We don't do libraries any more in this city.'"

Council Member Carolyn Arnold put more urgency in the message to city budget writers Tuesday.

"We're not going to continue to play this game, 'Under what cup we're going to find this money,' because we cannot do without public safety. We know that. And so we need to do what we know we can do. We must find it and take care of business, because we cannot go to these town hall meetings, continuing to feed information, 'Oh we're down 700 police officers. Oh, woe is me,'" Arnold said.

Johnson said he is calling a special City Council meeting for Monday so the new members can provide input on what they believe priorities should have been, instead of what city staff delivered Tuesday.

"A new Council that has six new members and a new Mayor was not part of that discussion," Johnson said.

The city staff will work on a new spending plan, while the City Council takes a July recess, for review in August. The next Dallas budget must be adopted in September to take effect October 1.

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