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Facing Huge Deficits, Dallas Doubles Down on DEI Initiatives

City of Dallas fiscal deficit
Fiscal deficit | Image by Dmitry Demidovich/Shutterstock, City of Dallas logo | Image by City of Dallas/Facebook

To reconcile what is projected to be a nearly $40 million shortfall in fiscal year 2024-2025, Interim City Manager Kimberly Tolbert has asked every department, including the Office of Equity and Inclusion, to trim their budget submissions by 6%.

A review of the Office of Equity and Inclusion shows its budget has increased from $2.47 million in 2021 to $3.78 million this year. In fiscal year 2025-2026, that number is expected to drop to $3.46 million, but that is still $1 million more than what it was budgeted in its first year as a City department.

The Office of Equity and Inclusion was created to “advance equity, inclusion, and social justice so all Dallasites can thrive,” according to its website. “Using disaggregated data analysis, inclusive community engagement, and accountability to the public, the Office of Equity & Inclusion (OEI) works across city departments to operationalize equity to improve outcomes for all Dallas residents.”

That includes investigating allegations of discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation. OEI also oversees the implementation of the Welcoming Dallas Strategic Plan, Resilience Strategy, Racial Equity Plan, Broadband and Digital Equity Strategic Plan, Resilience 2.0, and the ADA Transition Plan.

To that end, considerably more than $3.78 million is spent each year on advancing the City’s “equity and equality” initiatives across other departments. For example, according to the biennial budget presented by CFO Jack Ireland earlier this month, Dallas spent $53.1 million on workforce, education, and equity “expenses aligned to strategic priority” in 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. It is projected to spend another $26.5 million in fiscal year 2024-2025.

According to the 2023-2024 budget, workforce, education, and equity spending includes:

  • Expanding the Green Job Skills Program to empower local contractors looking to increase their skill set and fulfill high-demand green jobs in Dallas
  • Reducing disparities while improving outcomes in “fair housing” through the development and implementation of the New Fair Housing Equity Plan
  • Minimizing barriers and funding $120,000 in planning efforts that ensure that numerous facilities and City buildings are accessible to all and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transition plan
  • Supporting awareness of senior services and cross-departmental alignment of existing senior programs through the appointment of an “Age-Friendly Officer”
  • Completing a comprehensive senior needs assessment and strategic plan to strengthen community engagement and better support future senior programs and services

Along with workforce, education, and equity, the City’s other strategic priorities are economic development, government performance and financial management, housing and homelessness solutions, parks and trails, the environment, public safety, quality of life, arts and culture, and transportation and infrastructure.

“There are elements of equity that are integrated and overlap throughout the various strategic priorities,” former City Manager T.C. Broadnax wrote in the 2023-2024 budget executive summary.

“Equity is not compartmentalized in one specific department or Strategic Priority area but embedded throughout the City. …Equity is both a process and an outcome! Departments highlight intentional equity efforts related to the City Racial Equity Plan (REP). Additionally, each year, departments fine-tune their equity lens by submitting the Budgeting for Equity tool (process summarized in the Appendices) to include communities that experience the greatest need,” he added.

Budget documents show that since fiscal year 2016, $109 million in new services, programs, and departments, including equity and inclusion initiatives, have been added to the general fund. The most expensive of those are Dallas Animal Services ($17.7 million), Office of Homeless Solutions ($15.2 million), RIGHT Care ($6.3 million), School Crossing Guard program ($5.9 million), and expanded 911 ($5.2 million).

That kind of growth frustrates Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn.

“My feedback is a voter referendum to raise taxes to pay for anything, whether it’s a COLA or anything else in this city, I would be completely opposed to that and find it to be extremely financially irresponsible,” Mendelsohn said during an Ad Hoc Committee on Pensions meeting last week.

“The second thing is, y’all keep talking about a $38 million shortfall, but let’s be real. Our budget, according to you — just the general fund — is going to increase $60 million. The only reason we would have a budget shortfall is that you would want to continue spending money at the same rate and adding positions,” Mendelsohn added.

In an op-ed published on May 26, The Dallas Morning News editorial board took exception to what it called “a problematic average increase of 5.2% year over year” in the City’s budget — a scenario that prompted an “overdue, necessary course correction” because “budget makers” have failed “to exercise rigorous fiscal discipline.”

DMN’s editorial board also criticized the City’s handling of the Dallas Fire & Police Pension System, claiming Dallas has become “its own worst enemy when its leadership sidesteps difficult fiscal decisions. …Too often, they opt instead to add dollars to whatever was budgeted the previous year even as they fund new programs and services.”

The editorial also stressed reducing spending while focusing on delivering core services, as some council members have done during this budget season.

“Change doesn’t come easily, especially during a potentially contentious budget trimming. Dallas residents deserve their money’s worth for their tax dollars. They want safe, livable neighborhoods, better streets and sidewalks, and a city government that can provide basic vital city services like construction permitting without delay and drama,” the DMN editorial wrote.

The Dallas City Council is expected to adopt the fiscal year 2024-2025 budget in September, which starts on October 1.

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