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Icebergs and deck chairs: Dallas officials worry tax rate ceiling may have 'Titanic' consequences

Sculptures adorn the fountain outside city hall Wednesday, Aug 16, 2023, in Dallas.
Yfat Yossifor
Dallas City Council members have decided to adopt a proposed tax rate ceiling originally set out by the city manager.

Correction: A previous version of this story listed the incorrect district for District 13 Council Member Gay Donnell Willis.

After a contentious debate around the horseshoe — complete with props to punctuate their points — Dallas City Council members decided to adopt the proposed tax rate ceiling originally set out by the city manager.

That decision comes after District 12 Council Member Cara Mendelson circulated a memo detailing her concerns over what many call an approaching “financial cliff.”

Part of that memo — and an amendment introduced by Mendelsohn during Wednesday’s council meeting — called for the tax rate ceiling to be lowered 5 cents from the City Managers recommendation of $0.7393 per $100 valuation.

“Today every council member will decide, by their vote, the tax ceiling they support,” Mendelsohn said. “And if they want to lower taxes, keep them the same or raise taxes.”

Mendelsohn’s recommended rate would mean millions in cuts from the proposed budget, according to the city's Chief Financial Officer Jack Ireland.

“We released a ‘No New Revenue’ tax rate scenario, that identified $123 million dollars of reductions that would go along with that revenue,” Ireland said.

Mendelsohn argues that the overall budget increases year to year are getting out of hand — and a higher tax rate has major implications for the city’s budget and financial future.

“We’re talking about a billion dollar increase in the budget in four years," Mendelsohn said. “To our Dallas residents and our business I want to say, thanks a billion. But have you had enough?"

Even with the budget cuts due to adopting a lower tax rate ceiling, at least one other council member agreed with Mendelsohn’s push for a decrease.

District 10 Council Member Kathy Stewart, who was elected in the most recent general election, framed her decision to back a lower rate by her experience at a constituents’ town hall meeting.

“And it dawns on me that the people I’ve spent the evening with…are all going to pay more next year,” Stewart said. “If we stick with the City Manager’s recommendation, the homeowners are going to pay more and the renters are going to pay more.”

The current tax rate ceiling would bring an increase in the property bill of $64.99 for the median homeowner. A motion introduced by District 13 Council Member Gay Donnell Willis would decrease that to $55.62. But Mendelsohn’s recommendation would bring a $83.62 reduction in some property tax bills.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson put his two cents forward on the situation — complete with a toy version of the Titanic.

“To me, of these options, only one of them represents turning this ship around and going the other direction,” Johnson said. “The other options that I see before us amount to us saying ‘I see that iceberg over there and I think what we ought to do is move the chairs on the deck of this boat around’.”

But there seemed to be one issue. Community members have already been weighing in on the budget, which was built around the City Manager’s recommended tax rate cap. City officials say the “No New Revenue” scenario has not been part of those talks.

“Are we just checking a box when we go and speak to our constituents, but really willing to make all the hard decisions here without their input?” District 7 Council Member Adam Bazaldua said during the meeting. “Because that’s the message I think we are sending to the public.”

The decision to adopt to recommended tax rate ceiling is just the beginning of the process. Both the budget and the finalized tax rate will be decided on September 20.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.