Concerns of the citizens of Dallas were largely left by the wayside Wednesday, as city council rejected setting a property tax rate no higher than what would—in the aggregate—keep homeowners’ city property tax bills the same as last year. Going into council’s final vote, citizens will be competing with the far left’s demand to raid $200 million taxpayer funds from police—more than Austin—to fund their own interests, and city staff fighting against any significant cuts to their budgets.

Last month, Dallas city staff proposed to city council a budget for 2020-2021 of over $3.8 billion, higher than the current budget of over $3.7 billion. The budget proposes hiking fees, raising the property tax bills of senior and non-senior homeowners, and—despite spending increases of over $758,000—fewer Dallas police officers. It also expands the RIGHT Care program to deal with mental health calls, though mothers familiar with mental health issues have said they prefer working with properly trained police officers.

During last week’s first set of discussions on the proposed budget, the council voted to defund $7 million from police overtime, sparking an outcry from Dallas grassroots concerned about public safety. The vote and expected police staffing levels conflict with South Dallas citizens asking for more police protection to deal with rising crime and long wait times for 911 calls. A recent Gallup poll shows 81 percent of African-Americans don’t want less police in their neighborhoods; in fact, 20 percent of those polled said they want more of a police presence.

Yesterday, Mayor Eric Johnson proposed an amendment that would restore the $7 million to the police overtime budget. “I’ve got hundreds of emails asking for that,” Johnson told council as he waved a stack of printed emails before the camera. “I’m against defunding the police as the city council has proposed,” he added. “We’ve already hit 150 murders. … We’re on pace to exceed last year’s total.”

Included in Johnson’s proposed amendment was his “Defund the Bureaucracy” plan to cut $6.5 million from the over $3.8 billion proposed budget—a cut of less than 1 percent. “I’m not going to support this, and I know people in my district will not be happy,” Councilmember Paula Blackmon said. Council voted it down 13-2, with only Johnson and Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn voting yes.

Questions were raised about how real this defunding of Dallas police overtime will be. “If we do reduce overtime, we’ll still find ways to pay it,” Councilman Tennell Atkins said.

A comment by Councilwoman Jennifer Gates may reveal what Atkins is referring to. “If we need it, we can take it out of reserves,” she said, adding, “I think that’s irresponsible.”

That same day, the far-left Dallas Police Oversight Coalition—led by Texas Organizing Project—dispatched a number of public speakers to demand city council raid $200 million of taxpayer funds from the police budget. Austin City Council recently defunded their Police by $150 million. In further confirmation that the national left-wing “Defund the Police” movement is not about police accountability or transparency, they demanded these funds not be returned to the taxpayer but be spent on the coalition’s own interests, such as the arts, energy programs, and public transportation.

The coalition’s biggest advocates on city council are Bazaldua, Narvaez, Medrano, and Kleinman. So far, a majority of council has yet to signal an intention to move in this direction.

Council then decided what the highest property tax rate they can consider will be before going into the final vote on September 23. “My recommendation is to put it at the maximum and then we can amend it,” Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich told council.

By a vote of 6-9, council rejected setting what city staff estimated the no-new-revenue rate would be: $0.7532 per $100 valuation. The no-new-revenue rate—formerly called the “effective” rate—collects the same total amount of property tax revenue from the same properties taxed last year, both residential and commercial. Only Johnson, Blackmon, Kleinman, Mendelsohn, Gates, and Blewett voted for this to be the ceiling.

Had this been the ceiling council set for itself before deciding the final tax rate, they would have had to cut the proposed budget by at least $38 million. Instead, council accepted Blewett’s proposed rate of $0.7765 per $100 valuation, which, according to Reich, would require reducing the proposed budget by at least an anemic $143,000.

Data from the Dallas Central Appraisal District shows if this tax rate is adopted, there would be a 5 percent hike in the city’s average property tax bill for homeowners—from $1,723 to $1,814. Last year, city council voted to hike these tax bills over 9 percent.

Council largely defended the interests of city staff from attempts to reduce the proposed budget. “I want to say to the city employees of the City of Dallas that I appreciate you,” Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano said regarding Johnson’s proposed cuts. “I cannot support taking salary away from hardworking city employees.”

“I just don’t see going after our hardworking employees,” added Narvaez.

“We got people who work for the city who cannot afford to send their children to college,” said Atkins. “To cut their pay, it would be a liability to them.”

Councilmember Mendelsohn brought up the plight of the citizens—the ones who pay the salaries of city staff and whose concerns went largely undealt with Wednesday. “We have heard people talk about people’s pay,” she said. “I’d like to see that same compassion for the citizens and taxpayers of Dallas.” When she objected to nearly $5,000 of taxpayer funds being set aside for new furniture for the civil service (which she says is losing employees), City Manager T.C. Broadnax took exception. “People have the impression that people in government need to sit on borrowed and used furniture,” he shot back. “To look at that and to make that statement … is disrespectful.”

“I’ve never met anyone who decided where to work on the basis of the quality of the furniture,” a citizen posted on Twitter. “Either the job is fulfilling, the salary is good, the job is flexible, or the boss is kind.”

“[S]o why do you need more furniture?” Mendelsohn asked on Twitter. “And it isn’t just a new desk chair… it’s $5k. And $49k in professional development for 28 employees.”

The city council is scheduled to adopt the budget and tax rate on September 23. Concerned citizens may contact the Dallas City Council and Mayor Johnson.

Lee Kleinman: sophia.figueroa@dallascityhall.com214-670-7817
Adam Medrano: adam.medrano@dallascityhall.com214-670-4048
Tennell Atkins: maria.salazar2@dallascityhall.com214-670-4066
Adam Bazaldua: Yesenia.Valdez@dallascityhall.com214-670-4689
David Blewett: david.blewett@dallascityhall.com214-670-5415
Adam McGough: adam.mcgough@dallascityhall.com214-670-4068
Chad West: Chad.West@dallascityhall.com214-670-0776
Casey Thomas: richard.soto@dallascityhall.com214-670-0777
Carolyn King Arnold: District4@DallasCityHall.com214-670-0781
Jaime Resendez: jaime.resendez@dallascityhall.com214-670-4052
Tennell Atkins: maria.salazar2@dallascityhall.com214-670-4066
Paula Blackmon: District9@DallasCityHall.com214-670-4069
Adam McGough: adam.mcgough@dallascityhall.com214-670-4068
Cara Mendelsohn: cara.mendelsohn@dallascityhall.com214-670-4067
David Blewett: david.blewett@dallascityhall.com214-670-5415
Jennifer Gates: jennifer.gates@dallascityhall.com214-670-7057

This article has been updated since publication.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.