Late last week, when Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax released his first proposed budget since the city hired him earlier this year, one of the things that stood out immediately was the way he managed to balance his budget without slashing services. Broadnax did this by targeting money used to hire police.
While current officers are not going to be fired or be paid less, next year's budget authorizes about 500 fewer police officers than Dallas' 2016-17 budget. The impact of this cut is minimized because of anticipated attrition and the difficulty the Dallas Police Department has faced hiring new officers.
On Tuesday, the City Council expressed deep concerns over the precedent Broadnax's cut would set for the city.
"I heard the explanation that we budgeted based on the expected attrition and our hiring abilities," council member Adam McGough said. "That's extremely realistic, but it's also concerning because we're not saying we're budgeting based on our needs. Our public safety needs aren't included in that explanation."
McGough's colleague, Lee Kleinman, worried that Broadnax's proposed budget would undercut Renee Hall, the city's incoming police chief.
"We're benefiting from a lot of retirements, but if we're looking for new officers to fill those in, then it's just going to bloat the budget more," Kleinman said. "We've got a new police chief coming in, and we're going to tell her what the appropriate number of officers is? Don't we think we should have the new chief evaluate our department and tell us what the appropriate number of officers is?"
Broadnax said he did what was necessary with the budget.
"I can appreciate the cart and horse conversation," Broadnax said, "but the reality is this: The new police chief is not here. We're recommending a budget. We're recommending a budget for police based on our expected attrition and our hiring abilities."
According to Elizabeth Reich, Dallas' chief financial officer, the proposed 2017-18 budget accounts for a savings of about $39 million from salaries that won't be paid to police officers.
However, that doesn't mean that less money is being allocated to public safety overall, Reich said, because the budget calls for a $25 million increase in salaries for current officers as part of the city's agreement with Dallas' police and fire departments. The city is also putting $25 million into the pension system.
This means that the $39 million in savings, plus a big chunk of the $38 million in increased revenue the city expects from rising property values, will be invested into public safety, Reich said.
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Council members and city staff agreed that both current and anticipated DPD staffing levels place a lot of stress on the department. The next budget allocates $5 million to increased police overtime, and the council votes today on a manpower study for police staffing. It hopes to figure out how to stem the tide of attrition that's resulted in at least 350 officers leaving the department in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
"I think it's a good idea, especially with the new chief coming in to talk about what will be the level of manpower the we deploy, but I think the message that we should send to the officers is that we understand that they're being asked to do an awful lot more than they should be right now," council member Philip Kingston said. "To the extent that we can in our budget, we need to make their lives easier."