Our City’s property tax rate is unchanged again this year under the City budget passed Sept. 28 by the City Council, even though we increased services and added more police officers.
Residents of District 14, which includes much of Old East Dallas and the M-streets, who responded to a recent budget-priority questionnaire that ran with this column said they would support raising taxes to take care of basic needs. We fortunately did not have to do that.
The unscientific survey drew 121 responses, and residents ranked the importance of City services and how they would pay for them. Residents were also asked about their priorities for a bond issue set for next May.
More than half of those responding said that if the City budget could not be balanced any other way, they would support a property tax increase. For the second consecutive year, we have run city government effectively without raising taxes. In fact, Dallas has one of the lowest tax rates of any Texas city. Our tax rate is half of what Fort Worth homeowners pay.
Respondents’ most popular way of raising revenues to pay for expanded City services was to increase fees, which is how City Manager John Ware suggested the City Council balance this year’s budget.
The overwhelming priority for residents is public safety, followed by taking care of our streets and sidewalks and supporting quality-of life programs such as the arts, libraries and parks, and expanding our economy.
Crime in District 14 is down more than 12.5 percent for January to August compared to the same period last year. Only the adjacent City Council District 2, which also includes parts of East Dallas, had a larger decrease.
Although crime continues its steady decline in our City, we are not letting up. We added dozens of officers to double the Gang Unit, expand the successful neighborhood policing program and keep mobile police storefronts on the streets throughout Dallas. We also upgraded fire equipment and added ambulances to our fleet.
This year’s budget includes $1 million more for libraries, including money to support the new branch being built at Skillman and Southwestern in East Dallas. We again increased funding for animal-control efforts and the road hump program.
Part of the reason we held the line on taxes was a slight positive change in our tax base. Building permits in District 14, a measure of the economy, totaled more than $142 million since June 1993. We also reduced the City’s $1.1 billion annual budget by $58 million, yet increased services to neighborhoods.
The City Council will ask voters to approve a $150 million bond issue next May – the same day as council elections. Rebuilding streets, curbs, sidewalks and alleys was the top priority for those responding to the questionnaire. Second was “preserving city-owned property such as Fair Park.” Farther down the priority list for respondents was dredging and cleaning White Rock Lake, Turtle Creek and other waterways.
It is clear that those of us who live in the inner-city have seen our infrastructure decline too far and we want to do something about it. The bond issue should be a back-to-the-basics investment to turn around our deteriorating inner-city. East Dallas residents may express their opinions about bond issue priorities at town hall meetings scheduled for December.
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