Here’s How the City Manager Thinks Dallas Should Spend Its Money Over the Next Year

The City Council’s final vote on Dallas’ budget will take place some time in September. That means there are likely many changes to come to the budget City Manager T.C. Broadnax proposed last week. But his budget is the starting point for City Council members who will be planning amendments to his proposal until their vote on it next month.

“We’re trying to make impactful decisions that are not only sustainable, but I think speak to the values and the desires of many people in the community,” Broadnax said at a press conference last week.

This year, the city is working with about $4.5 billion. Some $1.7 billion of that will go toward the general fund, which is where residents’ tax dollars are put to work to provide services throughout the city.

Broadnax’s proposed budget comes just months after Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and several on City Council were making moves to try to replace the city manager. They’ve all seemingly made amends, with Johnson and Broadnax publicly agreeing to continue working together for now. In an emailed statement, Johnson said he agrees with the priorities Broadnax has laid out.

“I have been unequivocal that the top two priorities for this year’s budget should be public safety and tax relief for our city’s homeowners, renters, and businesses,” Johnson said in his statement. “I am pleased that the Dallas City Council will now have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to these same priorities by investing in making our neighborhoods safer while also delivering the largest single-year tax-rate reduction in modern Dallas history. While the details will be key, I commend the city manager for focusing this year’s proposed budget on the issues that are most important to our residents.”

“You can’t build affordable housing when you make building more expensive.” – Phil Crone, Dallas Builders Association

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A big issue for Dallas and people wanting to do business in the city has been the slow permitting process. This budget sets aside money to boost staffing and technological capabilities at a proposed new facility for processing the city’s building permits. The staffing changes would come with a new affordable housing unit team to help streamline housing permits and inspections. In his proposal, Broadnax is also pitching an overhaul of the city’s development code to make it more efficient and aligned with other plans and policies in Dallas.

These would be welcomed changes, said Phil Crone, executive director of the Dallas Builders Association.

The current permitting office at the Dallas Oak Cliff Municipal Center simply isn’t enough to accommodate the staff and the number of permits they have to process. They need a new space, and Crone is happy to see this and other concerns of the building community addressed in the proposed budget. An overhaul of the city’s development code, for example, has been needed for some time, Crone said. “On the zoning issue, everybody knows we’ve got a problem,” he said.

Dallas’ development code hasn’t been updated in decades and this has stunted the city’s growth, he said. “It’s a heavy lift,” Crone said. “That’s probably why it hasn’t been done in so long.”

But, overcomplicated and over-regulated zoning practices are what some say have made it too difficult and expensive to build housing at the rate that it’s needed. This has contributed to the country’s housing shortage and dwindling affordability. “You can’t build affordable housing when you make building more expensive,” Crone said. “When you have all these roadblocks in the way that add time and delay and add cost, you make building more expensive.”

One issue he and other builders run into is Dallas’ many planned development districts. These include very specific zoning restrictions and privileges that can add another layer of confusion for city staff and developers, Crone added.

“It’s been too long since we’ve looked at this,” he said. “There’s a really unfortunate history of what zoning has done to our city in terms of how it’s been divided and who’s been excluded. So, we have to, I think, just start over again and try to be as simple and as result-oriented as we can.”

On the environment and sustainability front, Broadnax’s budget proposal calls for weatherization and community solar programs for low-income residents, as well as starting a neighborhood air quality program. Some money will also go toward protecting Dallas’ tree canopy from the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that, if left alone, could devastate the city’s ash trees and other wildlife. The beetle was found in Dallas County this year. 

“We’re trying to make impactful decisions that are not only sustainable, but I think speak to the values and the desires of many people in the community.” – City Manager T.C. Broadnax

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“The ash borer will not only kill off nearly all of our ash trees,” Ben Sandifer, a Dallas environmentalist, told the Observer in May. “It will likely wipe out many insect species as a host for eggs and larva.

Residents are also set to receive some tax relief in this proposed budget. Broadax is pitching a property tax rate reduction of 2.75 cents per $100 valuation, dropping the rate from 77.33¢ to 74.58¢. The homestead exemption for people over 65, and/or disabled would also see an increase from $107,000 to $115,500.

A new team aiming to “deliver immediate interventions to address safety concerns connected to homeless encampments,” according to the budget proposal, could also get funding. This would be called the Homeless Action Response Team and include resources from the Office of Homeless Solutions, the Office of Integrated Public Safety Solutions, Public Works, Park and Recreation, Dallas Animal Services and the Dallas Marshal’s Office.

The proposal also sets a goal to house 2,700 people by fall 2023 and provide more shelter for the homeless in the event of extreme weather conditions. The city manager also proposed a new fund that small businesses, charities and faith-based organizations could pay into to help pay for affordable housing.

The Dallas Police Department might receive a boost in staff members if everything goes according to Broadnax’s plan. In the next year, Broadnax hopes the department can hire another 250 officers and offer more incentives to cops nearing retirement. Dallas could also see new teams and programs aimed at public safety when the budget is approved. This could include a new night detail to “educate, monitor, and inspect venues in the City’s entertainment zones during their peak hours of operation,” the proposal stated.

The budget also calls for expanded library hours and illegal dumping services, as well as a new program to address safety at apartment complexes and a new team to crack down on loose dogs in the city.

Some $157.3 million will go toward the city’s infrastructure, with most of the money funding improvements to nearly 800 miles of street lanes, 12 alleys, 12 bridges and 14 sidewalks. About $9.5 million will go toward fixing up over 500 city-owned buildings and another $70 million will be used to replace city vehicles.

To address Dallas’ digital divide, $2 million will also be allocated to hire employees who can work with households to access affordable, reliable internet service and make sure they know how to use it.

The budget has an overarching focus on equity, the idea being the city should provide each person in Dallas the resources and services they need to succeed in their own unique circumstances. Toward that goal, the city is trying to expand outreach in the coming budget discussions. That means providing information in several languages, including Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. The city is also trying to make the budget materials more accessible for people who use sign language and have impaired vision.

Budget town hall meetings will be held throughout the city Aug.11-25.

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