Dallas County leaders debated tax rate cuts Tuesday with one voicing strong resistance to the reduction crusade launched by the county’s top elected official.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said taxpayers deserve a break with property values expected to rise more than 12 percent. “Our middle class didn’t get a 10 percent pay increase, and so they can’t afford a 10 percent tax increase. And so, I would like for us all to work together to lower the tax rates,” Jenkins said. His plan calls for reducing the tax rate to cap the effective increase at 7.5 percent. Jenkins wants Dallas County cities and school districts to follow his suggestion. The Dallas City Council will discuss budget issues Wednesday.
Even with rising values, Dallas city officials still forecast a $19 million shortfall in their October 1 budget with many problems pending at Dallas City Hall.
The Democratic County Judge has a strong ally in Republican County Commissioner Mike Cantrell. “That doesn’t happen very often, I’m extremely excited,” Cantrell said. Cantrell wants an even larger rate reduction to raise only as much revenue as property taxes currently bring in. "I think we can still do that. I believe we can cut things in government,” Cantrell said. “You can have less employees making more money, doing the same kind of job. So, I think there’s some opportunity for shrinking government down a little bit."
Democratic Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price strongly opposed the rate reduction talk Tuesday. Price said Dallas County government scrimped through tight times with a very low tax rate and the new revenue is a chance for needed improvements. "We’ve got to move forward with the needs of Dallas County, infrastructure needs and delayed needs that we’ve got. We’ve been frugal," Price said. An example of Dallas County deferral according to Price is the County Records Building complex. Portions of the building are more than 100 years old.Renovation plans presented Tuesday will completely gut the existing structure to reconfigure the interior into more usable, modern offices. County Commissioners would move into the complex from their current offices at the former Texas School Book Depository. Some offices have already left the Records Building for temporary space and others are packing now.
Most public functions like Probate Courts and the County Clerk will be housed at the Renaissance Tower Building in Downtown Dallas for the next few years.
Commissioners said Tuesday they want to reduce the projected renovation cost of $138 million.
“We need to get these county buildings up to code and functioning and we can’t afford to pay rents for an opulent glass tower for too long,” Jenkins said.
Price said more deferred problems could be addressed if tax rates are not reduced.
“Dallas County has been responsible, we’ve been frugal, and there’s no reason for us to suffer now,” Price said.
Citizens will have chances to tell elected officials what they want before local government votes on future tax rates later this year.
The final Dallas County tax roll is due July 25 after pending appraisal appeals have been settled.