Top 5 Lessons from the Townhall Budget Meeting

Last night, Councilmember Linda Koop held a townhall meeting for District 11 at Churchill Recreation Center to discuss the proposed budget for 2011, which includes $22.4 million in public safety cuts, reduced hours at recreation centers and the central library, and the laying off of 450 civilian city employees. As this was my first city meeting in Preston Hollow, I thought I’d put together a Top 5 List of things I learned. Check out the Aug. 20 edition of Preston Hollow People for more complete coverage of the meeting.

  1. The library system has a loyal, loud following. The meeting of about 75 people broke into applause three times–all in support of city libraries. The majority of the questions involved library loyalists, including several people who said they would be willing to pay for services that are currently free, such as reserving books from other libraries and using reference materials, so that the libraries could maintain its current staff levels and even increase hours. Attendee Patricia Peiser voiced her displeasure at the reduction of library services amid light applause. “To have one of the richest cities in the country–maybe even the whole world–reducing library services is disgraceful,” she said. Although the central library is the only one to have reduced hours and restricted flo0r access, the angst of library users knows no bounds.
  2. Acoustics are essential. Complaints about the sound quality in the gym were second only to cries of outrage over the library cuts. City officials stated that although other rooms in the recreation center have better acoustics, the gym was the only option that would comply with fire codes considering the number of attendees. This answer did not satisfy the crowd, as shouts of “This place is impossible,” and “What a terrible place to have a meeting,” could, ironically, be heard throughout the evening.
  3. Some Dallas residents would rather pay more in taxes than lose city services. While last night’s crowd is likely not a perfect example of city opinion, it did appear to be split fairly evenly on the “to tax or not to tax” question. Several people voiced their opinions on both sides, culminating in a straw poll at the meeting’s end. At this point, however, so many people had left that only about 20 participated in the vote, which was right down the middle. Those opposed to higher taxes commended the city for taking “a long-term view” of the economy, while those in favor said the services were “worth paying and extra $50-100 in  taxes.”
  4. Now is a good time for building projects. While it may seem counter-intuitive to build while cutting the overall budget, construction costs are down right now, making the task much more affordable than usual. “Now is the time to do renovations,” Koop said.
  5. The city manager is the highest paid city employee. Who knew? Not this reporter. I was enlightened, perhaps with the majority of the crowd as well, when one attendee simply asked. An actual figure was not available, but Koop promised to provide the information by email to whoever wanted it.

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