Dallas Residents Weigh In On What They Want In The City Budget
Dallas city leaders are hosting a series of town hall meetings this week where they invited residents to weigh in on next year's city budget. There will be another opportunity for Dallasites to share their views on the budget at Wednesday's city council meeting.
Dallas residents who signed up for the series of telephone town halls centered around next year's city budget are getting a different kind of robocall this week.
“Welcome! You are joining a live conference already in progress,” the automated phone operator says when the call from the city comes through.
As part of the city’s budget engagement efforts, officials are gathering input from residents about their funding priorities.
Shortly after joining Tuesday morning's call, residents heard Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson share what leaders are hoping to get out of the events.
“Most of today's forum will be spent taking questions from Dallas residents in our live listening audience,” Johnson said. “Our goals in this forum are to provide you an overview of the city's budget for next year to highlight new and expanded programs and services in the plan budget to identify community needs resulting from COVID-19 and priorities for federal funding to provide up to date information about the city's response to COVID-19.”
The conversations are being delivered in English and Spanish.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax essentially has the final say on how Dallas' dollars are spent. He encouraged residents to not be shy about giving their feedback Tuesday morning.
“Most importantly we are here to answer your questions and find out what city programs and services you value the most,” Broadnax said.
Balancing a budget and getting it approved is the top job for the city manager. About 30% of property taxes paid by Dallas residents go toward city services. The funding supports things like parks and libraries, as well as the police and fire departments. How that money is allocated in the city budget process was one of the things residents had questions about Tuesday morning.
Dallas resident Ken joined a town hall call-in line to ask a question. Like other residents on the call, he only gave his first name.
“I'm wondering, will there be any financial cuts to the Dallas Police Department?” one resident asked.
Last year, city budget talks were heated as activists called for diverting funds from the police department. They wanted the city to reallocate that money to community services.
The Dallas City Council ultimately voted to approve a $3.8 billion budget and keep police funding mostly intact. According to the city's Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich, city council increased the police budget by $15 million.
“I would expect that to continue to increase from the sheer fact that about 80% of our police budget is personnel and personnel expenses," she said. "In terms of benefits and pay, due to step increases in the police department, they go up every year.”
Reich added that in next year's city budget plan, there are no proposed financial cuts to the police department. The city plans on hiring an additional 150 officers.
“I want to point out, too, that the city council has invested in other programs as well that aren't necessarily in the police department," she said. "But we believe are important to public safety.”
Reich pointed to increasing lighting in certain areas, the Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions — which partners with city departments and outside agencies to mitigate violent crime — and increasing police officer training.
Residents also had questions about housing, COVID-19 relief, help post-winter storm, unemployment and street fixes.
“I appreciate all the questions. Your feedback is invaluable as we continue to evaluate next year’s city budget," Broadnax told residents near the end of Tuesday morning's meeting. "You have several more opportunities to share your input with me or with your council member.”
On Wednesday, May 26, city council will hold a public hearing to hear more from residents. A finalized proposed budget will be presented to the public by the city manager on Aug. 10.
Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at email@example.com. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.
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