DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The first look at the projected budget at Dallas City Hall next year is not good: In figures released to the council Monday, the city manager’s office estimates a budget shortfall of between $50 million and $90 million.
But is it as bad as it sounds? It was apparent during Monday’s meeting that the answer depends on who’s doing the talking.
Mayor Mike Rawlings –– who served as CEO of Pizza Hut before trying his hand at politics –– calls balancing the budget a “doable” task.
“I think this is a very reasonable starting point for the budget,” he said.
Rawlings thinks it’s not only possible to balance the budget, but he’s certain it won’t require a property tax hike.
“When you look at something that’s less than three percent of the budget, that’s a doable issue and as we go forward I think you’ll see where we can spend the money better,” he said.
Historically, though, there’s pressure to balance the budget by cutting things like libraries, recreation centers and city pools. Public libraries are already closed on Mondays, for instance.
Quality of life issues frequently take a back seat to public safety, especially to police and firefighters.
But people using the Walnut Hill Recreation Center, for instance, call projects offered there essential. Dallas resident Yvonne Aguila’s daughter is a regular participant.
“To me they’re very important. My daughter comes here to the rec center for after school care. It’s kind of part of life for us,” she said.
Clemen Herrera agrees. Her daughter takes karate at the center.
“Oh, very important because they have a lot of things to do,” she added.
Annette Delira doesn’t use the center often, but said she knows plenty of people who do: “It’s something really affordable and I think everybody can benefit from it.”
Quality of life issues are especially important to the city’s southern sector, says District 8 councilman and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins.
He sees them as helping drive a healthy economy.
“I think they want libraries, I think they want rec centers, I think they want the opportunity to have a better quality of life; do that spur economic development?” Atkins asked. “I think those things do spur economic development.”
Atkins thinks finding ways to raise revenue is the answer. The Omni convention center hotel is generating income. Rawlings feels it’s time things like that shifted the burden off the backs of city workers.
“Our employees have not had a pay raise,” he said. “They’ve had furlough days. We want to make sure we have great city employees and have the morale.”
Another thing that may eventually raise revenue is “flow control,” where all the garbage the city picks up will have to be taken to the Dallas landfill and fees paid there rather than somewhere else.
It’s currently tied up in court, but city officials are confident it’ll eventually be a revenue-generator.