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Dallas City Manager TC Broadnax Warns New Mayor Eric Johnson, Council About Budget Challenges Ahead

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax had a blunt warning for new Mayor Eric Johnson and council members: tight budgets ahead.

"We can't continue to do everything we do today, and I think Council may find an opportunity to feel like they can scrub the budget down to the final nickel under each cushion but when you do that, it'll probably add up to $2, 3, 4 million if in fact that is even doable but that doesn't deal with what I believe are the $20-$25 million issues that we talk about," he said.

Broadnax's comments came Tuesday during the first briefing on the budget process.

Broadnax will present his 2020 fiscal year budget August 13.

Mayor Johnson proposed a meeting for next Monday before the council's July recess, so he and council members can tell city staff their priorities as they develop a budget blueprint, which may be different than the previous council's.

Despite Broadnax's warning about the future budgets, the mayor and council members offered their own assessments.

During an interview after the meeting, Mayor Eric Johnson said he wants the city's budget writers to be looking for available money that can be spent on public safety. "How much discretionary spending outside of public safety right now is available through very creative reallocation of funds, more efficient operation, better use of the data and technology," he said.

In the meeting, new District 12 council member Cara Mendelsohn pointed out that while the city has said it spends 60% of its budget on public safety, like many other large cities, records show 57% or $781.2 million is actually spent on the police and fire departments.

The city includes its attorney's office and courts as public safety when Mendelsohn said other cities don't.

She told the city's budget writers, "So there actually is some room to go up there.. One, two, three percent doesn't sound like a lot but when you talk about this size budget is and this is a priority for the city."

Officials said budgets will be tight in the future because of a new state property tax reform law that requires voter approval if cities and counties increase property tax revenues by more than 3.5% from the year before.

New construction is exempt from the limit.

The good news for city leaders is that their 2020 fiscal year budget won't be impacted by the state property tax reform law, but starting in the 2021 fiscal year, they will be.

That's because the law takes effect January 1, 2020, which is three months after the city's 2020 fiscal year begins October 1, 2019.

Even so, the city's Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich told the council that their 2020 budget faces challenges because the city will need to find $17 million in revenues.

Because of changes in state law, the city says it will lose $6.6 million in revenue from telecommunications fees and $2.4 million in red light camera fees in the next budget.

The city will also lose $1 million in red light camera fees in the current budget that will have to be addressed.

Last week, the previous council voted to increase property tax exemptions for those 65 and older and the disabled from $90,000 to $100,000, which will amount to $3.4 million.

Next year's budget starts with a $5.3 million gap.

It is money that will be used to pay for the increase in salaries for police officers and firefighters that began January 1 of this year.

The previous council voted for that increase in the final year of the current meet and confer contract in an urgent effort to make their salaries more competitive with the surrounding cities.

After the budget meeting, Reich said, "A $17 million impact is a large impact. When we look at our library system, the entire library system is about $30 million."

With the city down hundreds of police officers, the mayor and council members repeated their campaign themes that public safety is the top priority.

The city is poised to spend more money on police and fire as managers negotiate a new three year contract for police officers and firefighters that starts October 1.

During an interview, Mayor Johnson praised law enforcement officers and said the city must be able to afford salary and benefits increases over the long-term. "The job they did yesterday in dealing with the gunman at the federal building, our first responders are amazing and we want to make sure they are compensated in a way that reflects the way we feel about them and obviously is competitive with our surrounding communities. You can't raise your starting salary for the first year, then lower it the next and then raise it and lower it again. We have to be able to raise it in a way that's sustainable because you don't ever want to go backward," he said.

So far, the city hasn't been able to keep pace hiring new officers with attrition.

"We budgeted for so many new officers, but we haven't been able to recruit more officers, so there are strategies we'll have to address," District 13 council member Jennifer Gates said.

Johnson said the key solution to budget challenges is attracting new businesses to move into the city of Dallas -- something companies like Uber and Lowes are considering.

"What we need is a steady, consistent growth in our tax base, year over year, and so that means getting the Ubers and Lowes to make that decision to come to Dallas and put their facilities in Dallas," Johnson said.

After the city manager presents his proposed budget August 13, council members will hold hearings and meetings and then vote on it September 18.

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