Chiefs asked to refine fee proposal

Dallas Fire Chief Fred Hertel answers questions at a community forum on July 12.

Photo by Audrey Caro
Dallas Fire Chief Fred Hertel answers questions at a community forum on July 12.

DALLAS — The police and fire and EMS departments in Dallas will move forward with researching a public safety utility fee following a presentation to the Dallas City Council Monday night.

“I would like to recommend that we continue along this path to keep compiling information and at the first meeting in August, open it up for a public hearing,” said Council President Micky Garus. “Let the community come in one more time in this format and express their needs and wants and concerns. Based on how that goes, we can move forward after that.”

The current proposal asks the $4.85 per month be charged on water bills to pay for adding two police officers and two firefighter/medics.

Councilor Jim Fairchild said he would like the chiefs to consider developing a form for a hardship waiver for residents who are low income or senior citizens.

Police Chief Tom Simpson said there is at least one jurisdiction that has applications for citizens to submit for fee reductions based on financial hardship or other circumstances.

“If the council chooses to go forward, then we can dig into the weeds and get you some information,” Simpson said.

Councilor Kelly Gabliks said the departments should use Summerfest on July 27-29 as a time to ask more citizens for their concerns and feedback on the proposed fee. She said comment cards should be available for people to fill out.

“That’s when the most people are downtown,” she said. “I would really like to see you guys have a booth down there or something down there where people can come by and fill out the cards like we had because that is the best chance you have of getting a lot of people down there available to answer questions.”

The council didn’t cast a vote to move forward, but directed the chiefs to continue to gather feedback and refine the proposal before the next meeting on Aug. 6.

Dallas Fire & EMS Chief Fred Hertel said the social media campaign about the fee reached about 21,000 people inside and outside of the city. He said 132 written comments were submitted and 62 percent of those were in support.

Fifty of those comments were not, but he believed tweaking the proposal could answer some of the concerns raised. Hertel said that included those who support the departments but didn’t like the process or the method of collecting the fee. Others said they would like to see a hardship provision added to lessen the burden on those who could not afford it.

“If the council decides to move forward, I think we can mitigate some of those issues that are listed in the non-supportive category,” Hertel said.

He added that some citizens said the issue should be taken to the voters in the form of a property tax levy. Hertel said that would limit the revenue collection to five years per state law and would be more expensive to some property owners than the utility fee.

“We did some math, since that was a topic of discussion,” Hertel said. “We need the $420,000, and for our assessed value in the city of Dallas it would take about 43 cents per $1,000 to generate that.”

That amounts to about $7.16 per month for owners of homes with a $200,000 assessed value.

Another citizen concern was that the money, which would go to the city’s general fund, could be redirected to other needs. Simpson said the ordinance authorizing the fee could be worded as such that it would be dedicated funding. It could be changed, but not without council action at a public meeting, he said.

The same is true of increasing the amount.

“If that changes it would have to go back to the council,” Hertel said.

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