Dallas City Council members Tuesday began debate on the city manager’s proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which is a record $4.35 billion spending plan.
Police and streets are among the items that will get more spending.
Council members said they were mostly pleased with the plan at a briefing Tuesday, but one member said the police department is getting too much money.
The budget benefits from $355.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act -- the COVID-19 relief money from the federal government to be used over a two-year period.
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That money is intended to help communities recover from the pandemic but there is some flexibility.
Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich said the money is only being used for one-time expenses that will not require city tax dollars to continue in the future.
“So, in terms of ongoing expenses, those things that go from year to year, none of those are funded in the American Rescue Plan Act. What’s funded there is all things that can be stopped when that money is gone,” she said.
Still, the extra funds are a big advantage for city budget problems.
For instance, some of it would be used to buy 30 additional police cars which in turn will allow police to split two-officer cars into 60 units for faster police response to calls.
Black Police Association of Greater Dallas President Terrance Hopkins supports officers riding solo in cars, which he has done during his 30-year career.
“I do agree with that. That helps us visibility-wise, officer-wise, to be in the right place at the right time. And back up is only a few minutes away at any point,” Hopkins said.
He said he is also pleased with planned police and firefighter pay raises to help keep experienced people working for the city and hire more.
The budget calls for hiring 250 more police officers each of the next two years.
“We've got to continue hiring and get our numbers back up to what they used to be,” Hopkins said.
With attrition of officers resigning or retiring, the budget plan still only forecasts a force of around 3,200. The peak was 3,690 in 2010.
Police Chief Eddie Garcia has said he believes the existing academy can train 250 more officers a year but might not be able to reach the 275 Mayor Eric Johnson has said he wants to see hired.
“We’re trying to accomplish getting additional staff on patrol out on the street and do so in the way that’s most efficient and cost-effective for us as we move forward,” Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said.
Councilman Adam Bazaldua took issue with the $31.5 million plan for police overtime spending, twice as much as what is in the current budget.
“When is there going to be some accountability for the police department to get control of their overtime that is ballooning out of control,” Bazaldua said.
Police leaders said overtime should decrease as more officers are hired to work regular hours.
The spending plan includes better pay intended to help hire more than 60 additional employees in the 911 call center, which has faced years of 911 delays.
Councilman Adam McGough said delays are unacceptable and the problems must be solved.
“With the changes we're proposing, are we doing enough or do we need to do more in this budget?” McGough asked.
Officials believe their 911 staffing plan will work. They also hope better pay will improve staffing of sanitation workers to end trash collection delays.
Bad Dallas streets get $150 million, the start of a multi-year plan to reverse decades of neglect.
“We've had folks asking for us to finally get this funded, to get us to zero degradation. So, getting this in here is really exciting,” Councilman Omar Narvaez said.
In addition to the federal COVID-19 relief money, Dallas City Hall also enjoys a rebound in sales tax revenue since stay-at-home business closures early in the pandemic.
A small 3-cent per $100 value tax rate decrease is proposed to reduce the rate from 77.63 to 77.33.
The Dallas property tax rate would still be one of the highest in North Texas and among the larger cities in the state.
A series of town hall budget meetings are planned virtually and at locations around the city before a final vote of the Dallas City Council on the new budget is scheduled in September.
Citizens have many opportunities to sound off and make their feelings known.