(TNS) - The Dallas City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a budget for the next fiscal year that bumps the pay for midcareer officers and adds an estimated 19 cops to the police force, without a tax rate hike.
The $1.44 billion general fund budget focuses largely on the retention and recruitment of Dallas police officers. Mayor Eric Johnson said it's the first time the budget has passed unanimously since 2014 and believes it demonstrates "a return of civility" at City Hall.
At a news conference shortly after the vote, Johnson -- joined by all the council's members -- said the budget "is a win" for taxpayers and police and fire and "positions our city to meet the demands of the future, to invest in our people ... so that everyone can share in Dallas' prosperity."
Council members can also say they decreased the city's property tax rate for a fourth year in a row -- from 77.67 cents per $100 of valuation to 77.66 cents.
A council amendment last year to increase minimum salaries of starting cops to $60,000 left midcareer officers with a pay gap and the city with a $5 million gap in the budget, city officials said.
Johnson said he hopes the budget "reflects our commitment to public safety" but also continues funds for social services.
In last-minute budget amendments, council members discussed how to use the remaining $125,000 in tax savings that weren't enough to reduce the tax rate beyond the one-hundredth of a cent. An amendment by council member Omar Narvaez used $25,000 of those savings to add to the Senior Affairs Commission's budget.
Council member Lee Kleinman advocated to keep the money untouched in reserves. After several council members agreed, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough withdrew an amendment for additional implicit bias training.
"We don't have to spend every last penny," Kleinman said.
The total budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, is $3.8 billion.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax initially pushed a tax hike, to 78 cents per $100 of valuation, which would have increased revenues by another $4.5 million. The strategy was to anticipate the Legislature's new restriction that caps cities' property tax revenue collection at only 3.5% above the previous year.
But strong opposition from council members prompted city officials to find other sources for savings. Council members then considered cuts to the proposed budgets of offices focused on human and social services. Broadnax instead proposed a compromise, which found savings in other areas of the budget.
Broadnax said city officials "had a few bumps and bruises" during the budget process, and that he'll continue to talk to council members about how they can come to a consensus more quickly.
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, on Wednesday thanked council members for boosting public safety funding. He said their efforts to recruit officers, and their decision last year to increase starting salaries, are working.
"The citizens of Dallas felt they were not protected. They are the ones who called you to action," Mata said. "You are changing the pay policy so that we are no longer hiring those, training those and seeing other cities take them away. We are correcting something that has been broken for three-plus decades."
The $874.9 million public safety budget -- which includes police, fire, emergency management, municipal courts, the marshal's office and the jail contract with Dallas County -- makes up more than 60% of the general fund.
Police and fire budgets total about 58%, or $834 million.
The public safety budget also adds to the state-mandated $162 million contribution -- a $5.2 million increase over last year's required amount -- to the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.
Council members on Wednesday also approved a three-year $99.4 million meet-and-confer agreement that negotiates pay with police associations.
Many council members said they were committed to making those public safety investments without a tax rate hike. Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano said that in his seven years passing a budget, it's the first time that the council "worked together as a team."
With a tight budget and less revenue coming in the next few years, Johnson acknowledged the budget didn't invest as much in infrastructure as he would have liked. Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates said she hopes council members invest more in streets in the coming years.
Several members of the public also urged the council throughout the process to focus on tackling poverty in Dallas and criticized the elected officials for considering cuts to proposed budgets for social service offices.
Sara Mokuria -- co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality and a member of Our City Our Budget, a coalition of activists calling for more social service funding -- at the public hearing Wednesday morning blasted city officials for being focused on police above other significant needs.
"This budget, which we say is a public safety budget, should be an anti-poverty budget," Mokuria said.
The budget included a few minor changes, such as additional Wi-Fi hot spots for $238,000 in an amendment by Jaime Resendez, three more senior planners for $210,000 in an amendment by Chad West, and $1.2 million for 15 firefighters to work at Fire Station 18. Another $1.5 million would be used for Park and Recreation's youth access and after-school programs.
But during the briefing, Narvaez said "every single penny" of the $40 million added to the budget went to public safety.
"We didn't get to do anything different, and that's the hard part," Narvaez said. "This time around public safety wins out, and it should because our first responders are putting their lives on the line, and they deserve these dollars."
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