Mayor Eric Johnson delivered his State of the City address Thursday evening via a radio broadcast, commenting on where Dallas is on issues ranging from crime and public safety to government spending and property taxes.
“In past years, we have made the State of the City address an in-person event. But this year, in an increasingly complex world that is fraught with uncertainty, I decided to keep things simple,” the mayor said. “No stage. No podium. No applause breaks. Just an honest conversation with you about Dallas.”
“You deserve straight talk, and that’s what I’m going to give you,” Johnson added. While his State of the City speech last year focused on highlighting his administration’s accomplishments, this year, the mayor acknowledged Dallas’ shortcomings and his concerns over the city’s future.
CRIME & PUBLIC SAFETY
While Johnson noted his accomplishment of two straight years of reductions in violent crime, he also acknowledged that murders are going up in Dallas.
“For two consecutive years coming out of the pandemic, Dallas saw violent crime fall in every major category. That’s something no other top 10 city in America achieved,” Johnson said. “This year, violent crime will fall again — a remarkable third-straight year of reductions. Aggravated assault, rape, and robbery are all continuing to go down.”
“Still, I want to level with you,” Johnson continued. “It’s not 100% good news. That’s because, after two straight years of decreasing homicide numbers, murders are likely to be up this year over last year.”
As of November 30, according to the City of Dallas crime analytics dashboard, there have been 222 murders committed in Dallas this year, marking a 10.4% increase over the same period in 2022.
“I am not at all happy about this,” Johnson said. “These numbers represent lives, and it is always tragic when lives are lost to violence in this city. It’s simply not something that anyone in any leadership position in this city can or should ever accept or excuse. Period.”
Johnson said that next year, the City “must intensify its efforts to stop violence” by increasing hiring at the Dallas Police Department and stabilizing the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System to attract more recruits.
DPD has been enduring a staffing shortage, currently fielding fewer than 3,200 officers even though a City analysis suggests Dallas needs roughly 4,000.
“Our goal is to become the safest big city in America. That’s going to require us to continue to be relentless when it comes to ensuring public safety,” Johnson said. “You should expect nothing less from your city government.”
PROPERTY TAXES & CITY SPENDING
While Johnson and Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) made an effort this year to reduce the City budget and property tax burden on Dallas residents, those efforts were hindered by the rest of the Dallas City Council, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
Johnson said he was proud of the tax rate reductions and increased senior citizen tax exemptions passed by the council but maintained that property taxes were still “too high.”
“The problem, as I’ve mentioned, is that people want to move to our city, and that means your property valuations are going up. That’s great whenever it’s time to sell your home. But for families who want to stay in their homes and raise their children or grow old in our city, it also means a higher tax bill at a time when many people are just trying to get by,” Johnson said. “We can and we should be doing a lot more to give hard-working Dallas taxpayers some relief.”
Johnson said the City of Dallas “must be more responsible with your money,” noting that the general fund budget has increased by 83% since 2010.
“If anyone tells you that’s all driven by the police budget, they’re wrong,” Johnson remarked. “The public safety portions of our city’s budget grew at a slower pace than the rest of the budget, even with a large increase in spending to partially stabilize our police and fire pensions.”
“Even in an uncertain world, there is one thing you can count on: the wish lists of city government bureaucrats will always grow,” the mayor said. “There will always be a new program, a new pet project, a new department or office to establish for one reason or another. And your tax dollars will pay for it regardless of whether it works or not.”
Johnson added that he will direct the City’s Government Performance and Financial Management Committee to immediately begin planning for a 2024-2025 fiscal year budget that “holds spending flat and cuts your taxes.”
“Ultimately, however, in our form of city government, it takes eight votes on your City Council to give you real tax relief. This year, we had five votes, including mine,” Johnson said.
STREETS & PARKS
Dallas residents will vote on a new bond proposal next year, but the City Council must first determine how the bond funds should be distributed across various city projects.
Johnson said the two biggest allocations in the bond package should be for street maintenance and public parks.
“That’s what our citizen-led Community Bond Task Force recommended. That’s what the people of Dallas want. That’s what I want as your mayor. And that’s what our city needs,” Johnson said.
The mayor noted that the Community Bond Task Force recently recommended allocating $375 million to streets and $350 million to parks, as reported by The Dallas Express.
“This bond package should allow us to make critical investments in our city without raising your taxes,” Johnson said. “The proposed investment in streets is bold but responsible … and it will allow us to make major improvements to the infrastructure in our neighborhoods in the next few years.”
“The proposed allocation for parks would be the largest investment ever in our city’s park system,” Johnson continued. “And it will help us to achieve our goal of ensuring that everyone in Dallas lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or a trail.”
Johnson also responded to critics who argue that City funds would be better spent on “taxpayer-supported housing” than parks.
“We need more housing in Dallas,” the mayor acknowledged. “But historically, government is simply not good at playing the role of a housing developer.”
“Spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a handful of houses or a couple hundred apartments here and there isn’t the answer here, and it won’t reduce your rent or your mortgage a single cent,” Johnson argued.
Johnson said only the private sector can provide the “real scale” of housing needed in Dallas.
“Our city government’s role here should be to make things simpler for professional builders,” the mayor said. “Improving our city’s permitting process and easing our zoning restrictions are where we can make a much bigger difference.”
As previously reported by The Dallas Express, developers have had to periodically grapple with delays and permit backlogs at the Development Services Department.
Johnson is now directing the City Council Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee to develop five new recommendations “for simple yet innovative ways that we can free the private sector to build more housing in the places where it makes the most sense.”
In addition to the bond proposal, Dallas voters will see potential changes to the City Charter on the ballot next year, which are currently being deliberated by the Charter Review Commission.
Johnson encouraged Dallas residents “to learn more about their city government and to get involved and to give their input now before any proposed charter amendments appear on the ballot.”
“We still have work to do,” the mayor concluded. “But it’s work that we will continue to do together — all of us: our entrepreneurs, our faith community, our businesses, our City Council, our neighborhood leaders, and people like you.”