Support Growing for Dallas Tax Hike

Some Dallas City Council members are talking about a property tax increase to avoid deeper cuts in the budget for the next fiscal year.

Several council members who oppose or are uncommitted to a tax hike voiced strong opposition Wednesday to the cuts raised in the city manager's budget proposal as an alternative to raising taxes.

"We can't continue, colleagues, to claim ourselves as folks who want a world-class city if we're not making investments in very basic, basic resources," Councilwoman Angela Hunt said.

The council heard briefings Wednesday on proposed cuts to libraries and street repair.

Libraries would cut $2.8 million in books and other materials and eliminate 121 employees.

"In my opinion, you might as well close the library branch," Councilman Dave Neumann said. "If indeed, as a city, we're going to open the library doors, we need to make sure it's properly staffed."

Several members said that they have heard strong support from constituents at budget town hall meetings for improved services even if it requires a property tax rate increase.

"It's going to be very difficult for me to go against their will unless I can be convinced that we are going to have the money to fix the streets, keep the libraries open," Councilman Dwaine Caraway said.

The tax talk came on the same day the council approved a plan to cut police and firefighter pay for about $23 million in budget savings this year in return for promises of future public safety pay increases from the city.

Leaders of Dallas police and firefighter groups were told by city leaders months ago that tax increases to solve this year's budget crisis would be very unlikely.

"It's a little disingenuous, but we're going to work through that," said Mike Walton, president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police. "We're in here to help the city out."

Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the groups agreed to the process, called "Meet and Confer," to provide better security for public safety employees.

"We didn't know if that tax increase was going to go through, so we were basically betting on a roll of the dice," he said. "We didn't want to be in that position. We wanted to have input and make decision on what type of concessions we were going to give up and what we were going to get in return, and this contract solves all the problems."

The "Meet and Confer" agreement means the city must fund those future pay increases, and several council members say it is more reason to raise the property tax rate now.

Tax hike supporters say property values are down, and the rate increase may be a wash for many property owners.

The city manager has provided a list of proposed service cuts that could be restored with tax hikes ranging from 1 cent to 4.93 cents.

The higher amount of 4.93 cents is what could be levied by the city to raise the same amount of property tax revenue as it received last year before the property tax roll value reductions.

Tax hike opponents on the City Council say Dallas County approved a 1.5 cent property tax rate hike Tuesday, and citizens need a break.

"I talked to a store owner yesterday," Councilman Sheffie Kadane said. "His business is down 40 percent. He said, 'I'm making it, but (if) you increase my taxes, I won't."

Mayor Tom Leppert said the city needs to expand the tax base to avoid future budget problems and remains opposed to a tax rate hike.

"We need to grow the economy," he said. "I can tell you, we can't grow if we're not competitive on tax rates."

The council has several more weeks to settle the debate before the new budget takes effect Oct. 1.

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