DALLAS — Until Wednesday, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert had never lost a major vote at City Hall.
But the City Council overruled him by a slim 8-7 margin in approving a property tax hike for homeowners that's the largest permitted by law.
Leppert kept fighting to the end, calling it the biggest hike in two decades.
"We've also increased the burden on the homeowners, and this is my real concern. And we'll place an even greater burden on them as we go forward," the mayor said.
The new rate of 79.7 cents means the average Dallas taxpayer with a home valued at $213,000 will pay $64 more per year.
This debate, however, was as much about politics as it was about money.
Council member Angela Hunt, a frequent Leppert critic, pointed out that with property values rising in 2007, the mayor voted to raise the tax rate as part of a $71 million net increase in property tax revenue for the city.
"So we can play semantics games, but let's be very clear," Hunt said. "The first two years in office, the mayor raised taxes."
Beyond the posturing, the debate centered on fairness.
The extra money from the tax hike will go toward libraries, parks and streets that minority Council members say are vital to maintain in their neighborhoods.
"It should not have to be that North Dallas remains here and south of Dallas has to stay on the bottom," Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said.
But Council members like Sheffie Kadane, who opposed a tax rate hike, questioned how fair it is for homeowners and small businesses.
"When times are hard and people are down is not the time to raise taxes," he said.
As of Wednesday, 121 Dallas city employees will lose their jobs as of October 1 as a result of the city's budget cuts.