In a tense meeting on Wednesday, the Dallas City Council passed the Fiscal Year 2021 budget by a 9-6 vote after a failed attempt to restore part of the police overtime funding that was ultimately slashed from the budget.
Councilman Adam McGough made an unsuccessful motion to restore a portion of the $7 million in overtime funding that was axed at a meeting earlier this month when the council was sitting as a committee of the whole.
“We need more police officers than we currently have,” McGough said.
The amendment — which failed by an 11-4 vote — would have allowed the Dallas Police Department (DPD) to hire additional officers to “reduce [the] impact of attrition,” and included language that permitted the police department to spend the money on civilian positions.
Later in the meeting, the council fine-tuned the $7 million cut from the police overtime budget. Councilman Adam Bazaldua asserted that the amendment specifically redirected funds to public safety.
The amendment appropriated the funds to study poverty, hire “non-sworn public safety personnel,” improve street lighting, enforce illegal dumping restrictions, and implement “violence interrupters.”
Mayor Eric Johnson has been intensely critical of efforts to redirect police funding.
Police Chief Renee Hall, who has resigned and will leave her post on November 10, testified that while “there’s always room for improvement,” it has been proven that DPD is not abusing its overtime program.
As the council considered the cuts, Hall abruptly left the meeting, saying she had to tend to possible security threats after a police officer was shot in Louisville, Kentucky over Wednesday’s developments in the Breonna Taylor case — a controversial grand jury decision that no one would be charged for killing Taylor.
The Louisville grand jury instead charged one police officer with wanton endangerment.
The mayor and council members Cara Mendelsohn, Jennifer Gates, and McGough voted yes on the amendment. Council members Adam Medrano, Chad West, Casie Thomas, Carolyn Arnold, Jaime Resendez, Omar Narvaez, Bazaldua, Tennell Atkins, Paula Blackmon, Lee Kleinman, and David Blewett voted no.
In the final debate on the budget, council members were divided.
Kleinman stated that he was opposed to the budget because it included a tax increase on residents and he believed the reforms to the police department were not enough.
The fiscal policies passed by the council included a tax rate of $0.7763 per $100 in assessed valuation. The median home value in Dallas is $232,721, meaning a taxpayer with a median home value and no exemptions can expect to pay $1,807.
Last year, someone with no exemptions and a median home value of $225,943 would have paid $1,754 at last year’s tax rate of $0.7766 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Mendelsohn — who represents Dallas’ most northern district — contended that the budget funded pet projects and did not meet the city’s infrastructure needs or commitments to firefighters and police.
Tempers flared after the councilwoman made a critical remark about South Dallas.
“There’s another council member who’s talked about our city being a world-class city, and I have to tell you I sort of choked when I read that because all it takes is looking at southern Dallas to know we are not a world-class city,” Mendelsohn said. “No one can look at southern Dallas and say we are functioning well as a city.”
The remark drew intense criticisms from Bazaldua and Arnold, both of whom represent southern districts.
Bazaldua said that he was “beyond offended” by the comments and criticized Mendelsohn directly, prompting Johnson to request that members refrain from personal attacks.
Arnold characterized Mendelsohn’s remarks as “condescending” and registered her support for the budget.
The consensus among proponents of the budget was that it was imperfect, but met the needs of the city and incorporated needed reforms.
“Nobody is getting slighted in this budget,” Councilman Omar Narvaez said.
The final vote on the budget was nine in favor and six against. West, Thomas, Arnold, Resendez, Narvaez, Bazaldua, Atkins, Blewett, and Blackmon voted yes. Johnson, Medrano, McGough, Kleinman, Mendelsohn, and Gates voted no.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan in Dallas. During the academic year, he coaches high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.