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Mayor Eric Johnson sends message during state of the city address: 'Dallas is back'

Johnson spoke of multiple initiatives the city would be undertaking in the near future, including further violent crime reduction and tackling homelessness.
Credit: WFAA
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson.

DALLAS — One week after Dallas voters passed a proposition to provide funding for Fair Park renovations, Mayor Eric Johnson held his annual state of the city address at the site to talk about efforts to improve aspects of the city like crime and homelessness.

Johnson opened the speech with a general thesis that the state of the city is stronger and that Dallas is back, with a focus on the future and addressing various challenges. 

"In the last four years, Dallas has welcomed $14 billion in new development, and we have billions more in the pipeline," Johnson said. "Even in the face of today's national and international challenges, the City of Dallas has remained undeterred." 

Prop A, passed during the Nov. 8 election, provides funding through the hotel occupancy tax for a new downtown convention center and renovations to Fair Park, the site of the State Fair of Texas and other events around the year. With the proposition passed, Johnson said the real work begins now. 

"We should not act as if Dallas voters handed us a blank check," Johnson said. "We must ensure that these transformational projects of generational consequence are completed in a responsible and accountable way. And we must ensure that our residents — not just visitors to our city — benefit from these developments."

Johnson said Fair Park and the surrounding neighborhoods had been underserved and overlooked for far too long and that the city was committed to building Dallas where that would no longer be the case for any community. 

These would also be done without raising the taxes on residents, Johnson said. He then brought up that the city passed its largest tax rate cut in the last four decades with the latest city budget. However, because of the increasing property values, residents are still paying more in taxes this year. 

Other budget adjustments Johnson mentioned included increasing spending on police and fire departments, fighting homelessness, and fully funding the city's inspector general's office to end corruption at City Hall. 

Johnson made a point to say he fought back against the "defund the police" movement and fought for funds he said were needed to reduce violent crime. He added his views on public safety were shaped not just by evidence and data, but by his upbringing in West Dallas and Oak Cliff.

"The criminal element are not victims of a flawed system, they are one of the system's biggest flaws," Johnson said.

Because of this, the city needs to have community policing and data-driven policing, he added. 

The City of Dallas saw a $46 million increase in police funding with the most recently passed budget, for a total budget of nearly $612 million. That's about 35.9% of the city's general fund. Johnson said that will fund an additional 250 officers a year. 

Despite many cities across the country seeing an increase in violent crime, Johnson said Dallas is still seeing a decrease, about a 12% decline in all the areas the city's violent crime plan has been implemented. 

"When it comes to public safety, we must be guided by the core belief that all of our communities deserve to be safe — and want to be safe. That they want the criminal element weeded out of their neighborhoods. And that they want to be treated fairly and to get the same level of service as other parts of town."

Johnson said that despite efforts to curb homelessness in the city, the homeless population in Dallas has increased. And that the homeless continue to seek shelter on the streets and underneath overpasses. 

To combat this, Johnson said the city would be naming a task force of stakeholders and experts soon to better coordinate the response to homelessness, and that the city would be asking for county governments to play a bigger role, asking neighboring cities to join in their efforts and asking state and federal partners to help care for the city's homeless.

Johnson said the city would also be getting serious about what they want to see for the bond package they will ask voters to consider in 2024.

"As we shape that proposal for our voters to consider, I will push our city leaders to focus primarily on the 'Three P’s' — public safety, potholes and parks," Johnson said.

Among the needs listed, Johnson mentioned millions were needed for new fire stations, for improved streets and sidewalks, for reconnecting Deep Ellum to downtown and for a new police academy, which would be run in partnership with UNT-Dallas.

"We must begin to create a place of learning and wellness that helps us produce the most well-qualified, trained police officers in the United States," Johnson said.

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