The one thing everybody agreed on Tuesday is that the Dallas Police Department needs more cops. The fight, as Dallas goes through its annual budget process, is going to be over how to keep the officers already on DPD's rolls in the city and how to add new officers at a rate that eclipses attrition.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax's proposed budget includes about $500 million for DPD. That money assumes that the department will hire about 255 new officers over the 2018-2019 fiscal year — a hiring level that would dwarf numbers seen over the last couple of years — and lose 249 officers to resignations and retirements. Council members Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston and Omar Narvaez all said Tuesday that they want to address that second number specifically by giving all Dallas police and firefighters a pay increase.
"I continue to support giving an additional raise of 5 percent to our first responders," Griggs said. "Particularly, I know with our police officers how stretched we are right now. I believe that's in part because we don't have enough officers. We've had issues with retention and certainly hiring new officers ... [Salary] is an important component of that."
Over the last five years, Griggs noted, DPD has lost more than 1,000 cops, leaving the department with about 3,000 officers to patrol a city of 1.3 million.
"I hope we can all get around a compromise on public safety," Griggs said.
Kingston said that the planned property tax rate cut in Broadnax's budget of 1.54 cents for every $100 of home valuation wasn't what Dallas residents actually wanted.
"The tax rate you've proposed is not what people are demanding. What people are demanding is police," Kingston said. "People are not feeling ripped off by the city ... I think our citizens would broadly support the idea of using some of the tax rate cut that you're proposing to support the hiring of more officers and the increase in pay to retain them that Mr. Griggs has proposed."
Thanks to rising property values, Dallas property owners will pay about $150 extra in taxes next year if the City Council decides to keep the tax rate at its 2017-2018 level. If the council signs off on Broadnax's proposed cut, property owners will get a discount of about $20 from what they paid last year.
Lake Highlands council member Adam McGough didn't say Tuesday whether he supported the higher tax rate Griggs, Kingston and Narvaez want. He did say, however, that his constituents want more cash to go to police officers and firefighters.
"Even some of my most conservative citizens are saying we need to pay our police and fire," McGough said. "I have to listen first. That's our job. ... It's important to get more officers, and it's important to take care of our police and fire that are there, so I'm supportive of additional raises for our police and fire."
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Despite multiple council members echoing McGough and saying that their constituents' priority was seeing more money going to police and fire, rather than decreased property taxes, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings signaled that he is ready to do whatever he can to keep the rate down next year.
"I will not be supporting an increase in the tax rate that you've recommended," Rawlings said. "This is an important step in our fiscal responsibility to our taxpayers. ... I don't think we as a council should be trying to just take and take and take and take from the property owners with these taxes."
Paying every officer more, regardless of where they rank in the department, is no guarantee that recruiting or retention of young officers will improve, the mayor said.
"The issue is one of not having enough officers," Rawlings said. "To me, doing an across the board pay raise is like taking a chainsaw to do heart surgery. You can't just throw money up against the issue. You've got to understand where the issues are."