Jay Jay the Jet Plane sat empty, and the gift shop was all locked up, but it was standing room only inside the Frontiers of Flight Museum's auditorium last night for the latest in the city's series of town hall meetings over next year's budget.
This one was hosted by Angela Hunt, and -- though this one didn't end with a show of hands -- most were advocating some kind of tax increase to protect funding for the city service of their choice: mostly parks, pools, roads and libraries. The libraries especially, thanks to such advocates as Ann Saucer and Ed Peters, who showed up with flyers, bumper stickers and buttons for everyone who isn't afraid to show they love their Dallas library.
Assistant City Manager A. C. Gonzalez got the party started by sharing some choice nuggets from next year's proposed budget cuts -- 450 city jobs cut, salary slashes and eight furlough days -- before Hunt, who has said she's not sure whether she'll support several of her council colleagues' call for a hike of some kind, took over. The city's already cut the fat from its budget over the last few years, cut the muscle and cut down to the bone, Hunt said. "Now we've gotten down in the bone marrow," she said. "Amputation!" someone in the crowd chimed in, and Hunt agreed: "Amputation."
"I for one am a little tired of building a city for tourists and for visitors," she said, adding that it's time to "focus on creating a great city for residents." That means "sanitation, streets, code enforcement," she said. While San Francisco spends $155 per person on parks, and Plano and San Diego spend $93 per person, the budget proposed for next year in Dallas leaves $37 per person for city parks. After years of successive cuts to basic services, she said, "we are getting to the point where I think we are going to start damaging our city."
Most everyone who spoke was there to push for some kind of tax hike, but one resident, David Goldman, took the mic early on to worry that raising property taxes could mean sacrificing the best thing Dallas has going. "We have an asset in Dallas," he said. "We have a very strong asset in our real estate prices. Four cents might not be very much, but don't let that be the straw that breaks the camel's back."
There were rumblings of disagreement in the crowd. He passed one woman on his way out who muttered that he "probably came in from Highland Park."
Along the way to advocating saving Tietze Pool or hiring smarter code inspectors, most folks backed raising property taxes, one way or another. Virgil Lee suggested targeting specific places to raise revenue with a graduated property tax. "If you increase the tax on a someone with a quarter-million-dollar house, they can afford to pay a little more," he said.
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"There's a lot of public-private partnership that's trying to help when things are tight," said Community Partners of Dallas chairman Greg Nieberding, but those won't shore up the city's biggest budget problems. He told a story about being showered with paperwork about contract bidding protocol when he offered to supply one thing for the city. "If we coud figure out how to spend our money better and smarter, I think that we wouldn't have to cut so many things." It should be easier, he said, for individuals to share their expertise to help run the city efficiently.
Hunt agreed, "There is a brain trust, and we need to tap into it."
Packing up their bumper stickers and flyers after the meeting, Saucer and Peters told me that they've been to a handful of the town hall meetings already and received plenty of support from the crowd that turns up. "No one has told me, 'Hey, we don't support the library,'" Saucer said.
With funding to keep six floors of the main library open just 26 hours a week, and big cuts in the budget for new materials that'll "create permanent holes," Saucer said, they're pushing for at least $4 million extra to keep the library funding stable. "You're hurting the integrity of the entire system," she said.