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Dallas City Council passes $3.8B budget on divided vote

The budget includes a reduction in funding for police overtime, but also sees approximately $8 million more allocated to policing.

DALLAS — Updated at 5:45 a.m. to include a statement from Mayor Eric Johnson.

The Dallas City Council on Wednesday night approved a $1.4 billion general revenue budget for the 2021 fiscal year on a divided 9-6 vote.

This year's vote came after a more than 12-hour meeting and amid public calls for reduced funding for the Dallas Police Department. The budget will increase spending for police by nearly $8 million.

The final budget does include an amendment approved by an 11-4 vote to reduce the overtime portion of the police department's budget by $7 million.

The council also approved a tax rate for 2021 at 0.7763, which is a 0.0003 reduction compared to 2020, though city staff said most Dallas homeowners will see their tax bill increase if their home value increased.

District 11 Councilmember Lee Kleinman was one of the six members that voted against the final budget, citing a tax increase for most taxpayers and adding the council missed an opportunity for police reform.

"We will never see change in this city if we couldn't do it this year when we actually had an opportunity," Kleinman said. "And we just squandered it."

The police department budget overall will increase from $501 million in 2020 to a forecasted $509 million for 2021.

Councilmembers Adam Medrano, Adam McGough, Cara Mendelsohn and Jennifer S. Gates and Mayor Eric Johnson were the other "no" votes.

By contrast, the 2020 budget passed 15-0 last year.

Johnson said he couldn't support the final budget because of the cut to the police department's overtime budget, calling the decision "particularly egregious" at a time Dallas is experiencing higher violent crime numbers.

"That is the equivalent of cutting more than half of the overtime for patrol this fiscal year, and it amounts to far more than the overtime used by the investigative units that work to solve crimes and put violent offenders behind bars," Johnson said in a statement.

The general fund compromises a little more than one-fourth of the overall $3.8 billion budget for 2021, but represents the discretionary spending the council has the responsibility to approve annually.  

It includes salaries for police, fire and city hall employees. It also encompasses every department, including streets, housing, economic development, transportation, infrastructure and cultural amenities like community centers and libraries.  

On Wednesday, 71 citizens signed up to speak on the proposed budget. Nearly all of them asked the council for a $200 million reduction to the police department's budget, which would have been approximately 40% of the department's funding. 

However, in the midst of an increase in violent crime that started last year and has so far continued this year, no appetite exists on city council to make deep cuts.

Amber Brown addressed the council virtually through a video teleconference service during public comment and referenced the grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case in Kentucky earlier Wednesday as the most recent national example justifying moving funding from policing to more investment in social programs to address root causes of crime like jobs and housing.

RELATED: Grand jury indicts Brett Hankison in Breonna Taylor case, but no charges in her death 

“The people have been fighting and you’re not listening to us," Brown said. "You don’t care about us and it's evident."

District 7 Councilmember Adam Bazaldua had previous support to trim $7 million from the department’s overtime budget, but this week changed his amendment to move more than half of those savings back to the police budget to help hire 95 civilian employees, which will allow more uniformed officers to get back on the streets.

“I don’t think anything that we do with this amendment is going to make everybody happy,” Bazaldua said.

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