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City of Dallas Steps Up Corporate Partnerships

Mayor Tom Leppert, Comerica CEO Ralph Babb present check to Friends of Dallas Library
Mayor Tom Leppert, Comerica CEO Ralph Babb present check to Friends of Dallas Library

By BJ Austin, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Cash-strapped Dallas libraries and rec centers are getting some help. KERA's BJ Austin says the Mayor is stepping up his model of public-private partnerships. But, that brings a warning from a local political expert.

Because of a budget shortfall of more than 100 million dollars, Dallas libraries are taking a big hit: 150 layoffs and cuts in the library's already slim "materials" budget. Comerica Bank CEO Ralph Babb says that won't do.

Babb: During these difficult economy times the Dallas Public Library system is facing a reduced operating budget for the next fiscal year, yet is seeing a nearly 20% increase in demand in both materials usage and visits this year alone.

At City Hall, Babb announced a 50 thousand dollar donation to buy materials for the Polk-Wisdom and North Oak Cliff branch libraries. Library officials say that will fund "materials" for these two branches for a year.

Mayor Tom Leppert says this is an example of the public-private model he's been crafting since his election. The Mayor says such partnerships are becoming more critical to maintain important city services.

Leppert: I think we've got to be realistic and understand that in today's world financing on the local and the state level is going to be more difficult. Not just with the challenge we're seeing, I think in the next 10 to 20 years it's going to be more difficult.

SMU political scientist Cal Jillson says corporate funding of city services in Dallas is not done to gain future favors. But he says there is a danger.

Jillson: The doors are already open in Dallas City Hall to the corporate community. But the danger is if we're not adequately funding the public services and are instead depending upon the occasional and inadequate show of corporate largesse, we probably don't have a working model for how to run city government.

Some citizens believe a tax hike is called for to avoid painful budget cuts. Wednesday, members of the Fair Budget Campaign staged a swimsuit protest and street performance at the City Hall Plaza Fountain - calling on the city to keep more pools open next summer.

Protestor: Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going swimming .

Community activist John Fullinwider created the skit and played Mayor Leppert

Fullinwider: We're here to perform a short piece to illustrate some of the problems that happens when you try to balance the budget on the backs of pools, rec centers, arts programs .

Fullinwider and others hope their message reached Council members "inside" City Hall.

Mayor Tom Leppert says help is coming, but not in the form of a tax hike.

Leppert: I'm very confident that you're going to see significant changes, hours added back, pools added back - those sorts of things.

City Manager Mary Suhm says she's found 1.8 million more dollars in the budget for Rec Centers, to restore some hours that were cut. The money is from fees contractors pay to use the city landfill.

And Mayor Leppert hints another "corporate" partnership with Parks and Recreation could be announced next week.

Email BJ Austin