DALLAS – Carolyn Davis, one of six Dallas city council members to walk out on a possible vote on the property tax rate, says the situation could have been avoided had Mayor Tom Leppert discussed the issue beforehand.
During the August 23 city council meeting, word spread that Leppert might ask for a vote on keeping the tax rate unchanged. To prevent a quorum, Davis and five other council members walked out of the meeting before the matter could be raised. By preventing a vote, Davis and others left open the possibility of raising the property tax rate to fund the city budget.
According to Davis, Leppert should have addressed the issue before the meeting, behind closed doors, when the council met in an executive session. “If we were going to do this right, we should have talked about it in executive session,” Davis said. “We did not know the vote was going to happen. We were not told anything about the vote.”
Leppert’s lack of communication at the proper time, Davis said, forced their hand. “It was never even mentioned in executive session. That’s how our mayor should have handled it. It was poor communication.”
Davis does not expect the tax rate to come up for a vote until city council members have discussed the issue with residents at their respective town hall meetings taking place over the next few weeks. The feedback Davis is getting, including statements from residents at a recent council meeting, seems to support an increase. “They came down and told us that they support a tax increase in order to save the programs in our city. It’s the people who put us in office that are telling us this. I’m listening to the voters.”
While the numbers are still being hashed out, city manager Mary Suhm has turned in a proposed budget that does not raise taxes but does include some layoffs and a number of program cuts. Davis is counting on Suhm to find the right cuts without having to raise taxes. “Our city manager is looking for more money to not do a tax increase. (Suhm) gives us a recommended budget and as council members, we have to decide what to do with that budget.”
While she believes the city manager’s office is doing their best not to cut programs that would affect the quality of life in Dallas, she welcomes input from the public on cuts that could solve the budget crisis. “If there are things that can be cut, they need to tell us. They need to come down (to city council meetings) and tell us.”
To ensure vital programs remain funded, the public is willing to pay more in taxes, Davis said. “I’m hearing that at my town hall budget meetings. I’m hearing that from everywhere. I’m going to go with the wishes of the people.”
Davis warns that failing to make the tough decisions now will only delay the inevitable. “Next year, we are going to be in the same position (budget-wise), and we are going to have to cut back some more. You can only cut so much. (We may need) a small tax increase, that people support, to save these programs until we get out of these tough economic times.
“For now, there is just no more money.”
Source: Direct interview with Carolyn Davis, 8/26/2010