A small property tax increase is part of the new budget proposal Dallas City Manager T. C. Broadnax unveiled Friday to help boost public safety.
Broadnax said public safety is the top priority at city hall with support from a survey of residents.
The .33 cent property tax rate increase Broadnax proposes would add $4.5 million to his $3.8 billion 2019-2020 budget plan. It's a $200 million increase from the current budget. Broadnax said public safety take up 60% of the General Fund portion of the city budget.
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Broadnax said his proposal includes money to boost public safety salaries and benefits in hope of a net increase of up to 50 more officers on the force, without wasting money on unrealistic hiring goals.
"We budgeted based on the expectation of hiring and typical attrition to insure we are not putting dollars in the budget that won't be needed and crowding out services that we desperately need," Broadnax said.
Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said Dallas is comparing public safety pay with neighboring communities to develop a plan for pending negotiations with police and fire unions.
"We're very optimistic that we've put together a market based proposal for a pay plan for public safety that will help us not only draw officers in and firefighters in to our organization, but also allow us to retain more," Fortune said.
The last report to the City Council in May showed Dallas Police officer staffing at 3,014, nearly 700 officers below the peak of 3,690 in 2011.
Sergeant Sheldon Smith, the Dallas Chapter President of the National Black Police Association, said better pay is what is needed to boost manpower.
"Some officers are on the fence right now. Are they going to retire or go look for another job? We're gaining officers, but we're losing just as many as we gain," Smith said.
Given the smaller force, Smith said officers have asked about the number of police vehicles available for use and the condition of those cars.
Smith said officers have been asked to put more miles on police vehicles, even though there are fewer officers to drive them.
Records obtained by NBC 5 show the Dallas Police Department has 1,659 vehicles this year, 60 fewer than the 1,719 there were five years ago in 2014.
The manpower of 3,014 is 509 fewer officers than the 3,523 on the force on in 2014.
"We go through a whole gamut of problems with the vehicles that we have but the bigger question is, we have fewer officers, where are the cars? That's the question we all want to know," Smith said.
Smith and other union leaders have suggested that extra cars could provide more police visibility as take home cars for officers who live inside the City of Dallas.
"An officer that drives the same car every day, he takes a little bit better care of it. So the maintenance on the car would go down," Smith said.
Sergeant Warren Mitchell, a Dallas Police Spokesman, provided an email statement Friday in response the questions about vehicles.
"While the total number of officers has decreased throughout the years, DPD has maintained nearly the same number of vehicles as in the past. The department has been diligent in trying to keep the number of officers patrolling the streets to remain as consistent as possible while reducing the number of officers in all other bureaus," the statement said.
A police efficiency study that was to help craft the new DPD budget was approved by the City Council in November 2018.
Officials Friday said the study is not quite finished but will be submitted to the City Council before the budget must be approved next month.
It could help guide equipment spending and map a path to getting by with a smaller number of officers.
"We hope that we can revisit that number in a way that provides a more practical solution on how we police the city, one that is more efficient and one that provides a maximization of our resources," Fortune said.
Despite the smaller force, and reports of exceptionally long response to some emergency calls, Fortune said Priority One calls are just 3% of the Dallas Police total.
"DPD has the resources now to address those priority one calls," Fortune said.
A new online method was recently added to reduce in person police response to non-violent property crimes.
"It helps us leverage our resources to be even more available and more responsive to those very few emergencies that we get," Fortune said.
Union leader Smith said the use of Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers in Dallas this summer goes to show Dallas Police need more officers.
"That's a short term solution to a long term problem," Smith said. "There is no area in the Dallas Police Department that is exempt from the manpower issue."
As a new police budget is debated, Broadnax refused to elaborate on rumors that Chief U. Renee Hall may not return from an extended medical leave she began last month.
"The Chief will be back when the Chief is healthy enough to be back," Broadnax said.
Thursday Broadnax told The Dallas Morning News that he could have communicated better with the public about the possibility of an extended absence when Hall’s leave began.
Executive Assistant Chief David Pughes is in charge of the Dallas Police Department during Hall's leave.