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Rules apparently do matter: Dallas City Council forced to delay tax vote — and approving budget

Ritu Manoj Jethani
The Dallas City Council was supposed to approve a new property tax rate on Wednesday, but ran into a snag. And that means that approving the budget also may be delayed.

Dallas residents will have to wait another week to find out what their new property tax rate will be. And because council members couldn't vote on that Wednesday, approving the budget — scheduled for next week's meeting — also must be put off. Following the rules, or not following them, apparently makes a difference.

State law requires the city council to approve the budget before it votes on the tax rate. And there must be a public hearing before the budget vote. The city council failed to advertise the meeting in a timely manner, so that has also been postponed to next week.

As a result, the council meeting on Wednesday was a bit more chaotic than usual. What was supposed to be simple procedural vote turned into a debate about the tax rate.

And faced with the new developments, there was even a question raised about what would happen if the council violated state law.

Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King-Arnold raised concerns about racial equity and the proposed tax rate. Lowering the tax rate also lowers the revenue the city collects, which she said impacts the city's marginalized the most.

The mayor pro tem said she asked for clarity to ensure council members knew the vote's subject matter.

"I know that we sometimes vote on something and we're like, 'Oh wow, I didn't realize the implications,'" she said. "And so I don't want us to come up short with our equity piece in terms of providing services through this rate to our underserved communities."

At one point, King-Arnold asked what would happen if the council violated state law and voted on the tax rate before the budget.

Property tax rates in Dallas are expected to go down — but not all homeowners will see a lower number on their tax bill. The proposed tax rate is 74.58 cents per $100 of a home’s appraised value. The current rate is 77.33 cents.

For someone with a home valued at $330,000, this new tax rate means about $70 in tax savings. But not every homeowner will see a lower tax bill with the new rate. Council Member Gay Donnell Willis said Dallas has grown.

“We know that even with this reduction, it is still going to feel like a tax increase. If you are a property owner, you're going to feel that tax increase,” Willis said during a city budget briefing.

The county appraiser determines a home’s value based on what it would sell for in the market that year. North Texas is growing, so homes are selling for more – that means a home that sold for $300,000 one year could sell for $400,000 the following year depending on what the market is like.

Most property taxes the city collects goes to the general fund, which pays for city services like the library, transportation and public safety. The proposed general fund is $1.7 billion out of the $4.5 billion budget.

Dallas city manager T.C. Broadnax said the proposed budget is 11% higher this year. A large portion of that will go to public safety. City council members will vote on the proposed budget next week.

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Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.