City Manager Mary Suhm, Mayor Tom Leppert and CFO Dave Cook all stressed this morning that the city is facing the same budget challenges as other cities and states. As Cook briefed the city council for the last time before a more detailed budget is presented August 10, he said the more than 700 projected layoffs are expected to begin in August and claimed most other cities are in worse shape as some are laying off police officers, while Dallas plans to hire another 200 officers in the coming fiscal year.
He cited approximately $130 million in declining revenue as the most significant contributor to the $190 million deficit, and said Dallas is using similar methods as other cities to address the shortfall, such as implementing furlough days (which saves Dallas approximately $800,000 per day), closing public buildings and increasing user fees instead of raising taxes.
But, as far as Mitchell Rasansky is concerned, jacking up fees and raising taxes are one in the same. He claimed the proposed increases to utilities are equivalent to a 2.3 cent property tax hike.
"This is a tax increase," Rasansky said. "Anyway you want to look at it, it's a tax increase."
Long known as the council's tax hawk, Rasansky made the most out of his last opportunity to weigh in on the budget before he's replaced on Monday by Ann Margolin, who was in attendance. After thanking Suhm and her staff for their work, he offered some harsh criticism of the proposed budget.
"This is the most non-transparent budget I've ever seen since I've been down here at City Hall," he said.
Rasansky battled Leppert twice because the mayor only gave council members five minutes each to speak, as Rasansky blasted him for not giving him time to explain all of the $21.7 million in cuts he proposed.
He handed out a memo to the council (which you can see below) suggesting the city dip into the "unrealized gain" of $21.2 million in the city's investment pool that won't mature until early 2010. Although he acknowledged the city will lose some dough by cashing in early, he said pulling out $7.5 million would serve to close the gap or fund services on the chopping block.
Also among his nine suggestions is grabbing $10 million from the city's contingency fund that has contained approximately $20 million for the last 20 years and removing $1.5 million from the city's $5 million emergency fund.
Other cost-cutting measures offered up by Rasansky are reducing the Trinity River Corridor Project staff from 15 to eight, combining city bills into the same envelope, selling advertising on the envelopes and charging developers a 1-percent application fee when applying for tax abatements or other incentives.
Angela Hunt said she's confused about why Suhm can't provide council members with line item budgets to assist them in finding cuts and understanding how the money is spent. Suhm said cooking up a line item budget would force city staff to stop work on the budget, and she stressed that the numbers change on a daily basis.
Hunt also asked once again for the budget to be separated into departments, saying her constituents "don't think in terms of key focus areas." She dropped some numbers into an Excel spreadsheet on her own and expressed concern that it appears as though the Public Works and Transportation Department's budget will increase by more than 50 percent from the actual 2007-08 budget.
While it's a rough draft, her document (which was provided to Unfair Park) shows reductions of 73.7 percent to housing and 31.6 percent to libraries compared to the '07-'08 budget, yet the mayor and city council's budget is planning to see a 10.2 increase in funding.
"We've all got to roll up our sleeves on this budget because it's so challenging," she said.
Dave Neumann appeared enamored with Hunt, using her as an example on two separate occasions, once as a hypothetical constituent and another time as a citizen. He also praised her for previous comments when she stressed that the city must focus on providing citizens with core competencies.
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"This is not a wish-list year for the budget," he said. "It's an essential-list year."
And it looks like next year's gonna be one of those "essential list" years too.
"Next year will be as challenging as this year," Mary Suhm said.