Dallas police and firefighters will get raises. Tax rates — but not tax bills — are going down. And streets will get the shaft in the next fiscal year after council members unanimously approved the city’s new budget on Wednesday.
The $3.1 billion budget for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, passed with little controversy. The part of it that the City Council fully controls — the $1.2 billion general fund for day-to-day operations — focused largely on public safety in the wake of the deadly July 7 attack on police officers in downtown Dallas.
In fact, police and fire will count for roughly half of the expected $80 million in additional general fund spending next fiscal year. Exactly how much more cops and firefighters will be paid next fiscal year is unclear because the budgeted money appears to be a placeholder for now.
City Manager A.C. Gonzalez and police and fire association leaders say they are closing in on a multiyear agreement to increase the police and fire pay scale after months at an impasse.
“It’s in a way better place than it has been when it started,” said Dallas Police Association President Frederick Frazier. “The team is actually negotiating now instead of being stalled.”
Here are the highlights of the general fund budget for the next fiscal year:
Taxes: The city’s tax rate will be 78.25 cents per $100 valuation. That’s a small decrease from this fiscal year’s rate of 79.7 cents per $100.
The city had to decrease its rate by state law or face a possible voter referendum that risked lowering the rate further.
Despite the cut, the rate is slightly higher than the city manager initially proposed and will mean an effective increase of more than 4 percent in property owners’ tax bills because of rising property values.
Northern Dallas council members Lee Kleinman and Jennifer Staubach Gates had pushed unsuccessfully for lower rates.
New fees: Trash pickup fees are going up by $1.53 a month. The gate fee for dumping in landfills will cost $25 instead of $21.50. The typical resident’s monthly water bill will be about $2 higher this year.
Police and fire: The bill for public safety departments will come in next fiscal year at about $732 million. The spending amounts to about $41 million more than the city budgeted last year — a 6 percent increase — and includes a 28.5 percent payroll contribution toward the police and fire pension fund.
Association leaders hailed the budget as a victory.
“The message was sent by council to city management and the mayor that they support public safety and understand that our pay needs to be addressed,” said Jim McDade, president of the Dallas Fire Fighters Association.
Some of the money will go to hire 449 new officers to help restore the shrinking department to more than 3,500 officers. The additional 100 cops that Police Chief David Brown wanted will be hired over the subsequent two years.
Still, 449 new hires might be difficult to achieve. Back when the department was on a hiring spree in fiscal year 2008 and had a larger applicant pool, the city hired 376 officers.
The biggest likely future cost, the troubled police and fire pension fund, still looms. Fund officials have proposed that the city commit hundreds of millions of dollars or increase its annual contribution rate to 37 percent over time to save the fund from insolvency within the next 15 years.
And the city still faces billions of dollars in potential judgments based on years-old police and fire back pay lawsuits. Mayor Mike Rawlings said losing the lawsuits could drive the city into bankruptcy.
Ambulance: The ambulance is part of the fire budget, but it will cost an additional $900,000 next fiscal year to staff and operate. Dallas Fire-Rescue officials say they need one as ever-increasing emergency medical calls put a strain on their resources.
“We have growing pressures in the city of Dallas as it’s related to fire and EMS response,” Fire Chief David Coatney said. “This is a step in the right direction.”
City employees: They could get merit raises from a 3 percent pool. Including their pension contribution cost, which is separate from the police and fire pension, that would be an increase of about $8.1 million this fiscal year.
Dallas Animal Services: While loose dogs have long been a problem in southern Dallas, animal services has been in the spotlight since May, when 52-year-old Army veteran Antoinette Brown was fatally mauled by a pack of dogs.
A Boston Consulting Group study has provided the city a blueprint for overhauling the division. The study had estimated that 8,700 dogs roam free in southern Dallas.
So next year, the city’s animal control and shelter division will receive a budget increase of $3.2 million, bringing it to around $13.6 million.
Most of the increase will go to new initiatives such as animal control officers who work night shifts and increased spay and neuter efforts.
Housing inspections: The name “Dennis Topletz” doesn’t appear anywhere in the budget, but council members had him in mind as they crafted a new housing policy. The city has alleged Topletz and other landlords have left dozens of rental homes in decrepit condition.
Council members are expected to vote soon on whether to require inspections of single-family rental homes for the first time. The city will hire 15 new code compliance officers, at a cost of $1.1 million, to handle the inspections. An additional $500,000 will go to beefing up apartment inspections.
AT&T Performing Arts Center: The city-owned Arts District anchor will get an additional $1.5 million next year to help pay down remaining debt. Those payments will continue for a decade. That will bring the center’s general fund total to $4 million next fiscal year. Some council members remain wary of the deal.
Streets: Earlier this year, streets were a top City Council priority. But the city’s roadways are not going to get better in the coming fiscal year.
The general fund provides $84 million for streets and mobility. Keeping the streets at their current rate of degradation will depend on $27 million in bond money, which has not been proposed or approved. Voters will be asked to vote on the bond package in May.
Homelessness: City officials have struggled to find solutions for the tent communities that have continued to pop up underneath freeway overpasses. The council committed $1 million in new money for homelessness initiatives.
Fair Park: Rawlings won $7 million that he hopes to use to turn over the operations of the South Dallas park to a private foundation. The council has yet to approve the much-debated Fair Park plan, but even its critics believe the votes will likely be there.
The money will be in addition to the $10 million the city already spends to run the 277-acre park.
Home improvement rebates: Owners of homes worth less than $200,000 will have a chance to receive a rebate of up to $5,000 from the city for renovations. But for the first year, the program will get only $500,000 in available money. Priority will be given to people who live in a Neighborhood Plus area or a NeighborUp area.
Next year: It’s unclear how much council members can maintain in the 2018 fiscal year. The budget is projected to come up $90 million short of expected revenues. Higher property valuations and more-than-expected sales tax revenue could help, but the next city manager — Gonzalez retires at the end of January — is going to have to come up with a substantial amount of money.