Dallas, Texas – In a notable setback for Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, the city council rejected his fervent appeal for a substantial property tax rate cut on Wednesday. Instead, they endorsed City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s budget proposal, which contained a more modest tax rate reduction, by a decisive vote of 10 to 5.
Council members largely echoed the sentiment of their constituents, with a majority contending that Dallas residents are more inclined to retain the services detailed in the new budget rather than the service slashes entailed by a more aggressive tax cut. The adopted tax rate, pegged at $0.7393 per $100 valuation, despite being a reduction, is a double-edged sword. With property values surging, this revised rate will inadvertently hike up the final tax bills for a sizable portion of property owners.
Majestic Theater was one of the main topics during the Dallas budget voting meeting
A significant portion of Wednesday’s deliberation pivoted to the enduring legacy of the Majestic Theater, an architectural jewel in Dallas’s cultural crown, and its relationship with the Office of Arts and Culture, the institution it shelters. This storied theater, dating back a century, remains as the last vestige of what was once a bustling theater row on Elm Street in downtown Dallas. While the theater’s opulent lobby and stage areas remain bustling hubs of activity, catering to the public on a weekly basis, certain elements within the structure have been showing their age.
Most notably, the 43-year-old elevator, a relic from the 1980 refurbishment, cries out for repair. Further compounding the building’s challenges, the spaces allocated to the Dallas Office of Arts and Culture, which spans the 4th and 5th floors, seem woefully inadequate. Despite hosting 30 employees, the space was originally designed to accommodate a mere 19.
Additionally, accessibility remains a glaring issue. Restrooms, characterized by stairs and constricted doorways, are non-compliant with the stipulations set forth by the Americans With Disabilities Act — a mandate institutionalized in the US for decades. Beyond these structural concerns, city employees grapple with logistical challenges too. Should they opt to drive, they are saddled with the hefty fees of downtown parking or relegated to distant free parking spaces, necessitating lengthy treks to their workplace.
Council members were not happy with Majestic Theater’s long discussion
Councilman Zarin Gracey voiced profound concerns regarding the ripple effects such fiscal choices might have on employee sentiment and well-being. Gracey was notably among the dissenting voices when the council mulled over an amendment that aimed to withhold $190,000 allocated for the enhancement of the Office of Arts and Culture in the city’s whopping $4.6 billion budget.
In a similar vein, Councilman Adam Bazaldua decried what he perceived as an overreach and undue scrutiny of departmental budgeting recommendations by the city council. Bazaldua posited that expending hours of council time to deliberate on an item with a relatively meager price tag of $190,000 was a glaring misstep in governance.
The root of this contentious amendment can be traced back to grievances voiced by various arts groups. These entities conveyed to council members their apprehension that diverting funds towards the Office of Arts and Culture’s overheads might inadvertently deprive their own organizations of much-sought-after financial resources.
“Coming back from Covid, I know arts have struggled with that, and every dollar we can find for artists and for grants, I want to push out there versus an office move,” Councilman Chad West said.
The original budget book said the money would pay for an office relocation.
“I don’t have a district office. I go to coffee shops, gas stations, that’s where I hang out,” Council Member Gay Donnell Willis said. “This set off alarm bells, and I think that’s why what was in the book has shifted.”
Martine Elyse Philippe, the Director of the Office of Arts and Culture, provided a comprehensive overview of the refined expenditure blueprint for the department. Among the significant elements underscored were the imperative repairs to the building’s elevator system, the strategic reconfiguration of interim spaces within the facility to accommodate an augmented workforce, incentives for downtown worker parking, and a preliminary assessment exploring the potential relocation of the department in the forthcoming years.
“It would be great if they could work out in the community, but we say in the same sentence, there is no space out in the community for the arts organizations actually to work in,” City Manager T.C. Broadnax said.
Despite the contention surrounding a proposed amendment to block a $190,000 allocation, it was subsequently overruled. After several intensive weeks of rigorous review and deliberation by the city council, the City Manager’s budgetary proposition was ratified with only marginal modifications. This revised budget is slated to be operational as of October 1.