Corporate Money Funding Dallas City Services
By Shelley Kofler, KERA News
Dallas, TX – Six Dallas council members walked out of a meeting Monday. They believed Mayor Tom Leppert was going to push for a vote to cap the city's property tax rate at the current level. The six want to consider increasing the tax rate to pay for employees and services slated for elimination in the council budget to be adopted next month.
The walkout was preceded by the announcement of a one million dollar corporate donation that will prevent some cuts planned for recreation centers. KERA's Shelley Kofler has more on the donation and the Mayor's philosophy for using private money to pay for traditional public services.
The one million dollar check came from electricity provider Oncor. The money donated to the Dallas Parks Foundation will be used to keep Dallas' 42 recreation centers from slashing their operating hours.
A drastic reduction in rec center activities has been among the recommendations for closing a $130 million shortfall in the City budget.
The Oncor donation follows last week's private contribution from Comerica Bank to two South Dallas libraries also facing the budget ax.
Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert says these public-private partnerships are a new funding model that is especially important now.
Leppert: I think it behooves us when we have difficult budget times to try to find creative ways, try to cut things that aren't core to what the city's doing, get other folks engaged in these public private partnerships.
Leppert says corporate partners give because they want Dallas to remain vibrant. The Mayor believes the City has adequate firewalls to prevent future favoritism in return for donations.
Leppert: I think the way you do this is draw it around individual programs and you don't let contributions be across the board and you focus the conversation on what this can do in a specific area.
The Mayor says privately financing some public services should be embraced even after the economy rebounds. He cites the roller coaster history the Dallas Parks Department as a reason why.
Leppert: I think it's important we try to find new models. The parks and recreation budget is always susceptible to the economy and that's not just the case this year. The economy is good you get more tax revenues. You put it in. Then the economy goes bad and you pull out of it. It's not a good way to fund parks and recreation centers and whole lot of other things. That's why we've tried to develop alternative means so there's money in good times, and in bad times there are dollars coming in. It's sponsorships, it's getting non-profits involved.
Even with the Oncor donation, the Dallas parks department still faces about a 28 percent budget cut. That would close two-thirds of the swimming pools, reduce park maintenance and lay off more than 200 parks employees.
Mayor Leppert says additional private donations may help restore some of those cuts. Some on the council are also pushing for a higher property tax rate to close the gap.
Mayor Leppert has asked Oncor's president to lead an effort to raise additional corporate money for a youth fitness initiative that would be based at the Dallas recreation centers.