Monday, August 08, 2005

Private foundation to fund Dallas PD

I've never heard of this happening before -- a $15 million foundation grant to the Dallas PD, supposedly for nuts and bolts staffing and equipment needs. The money comes with strings attached, basing $10 million of the spending on the recommendations of an unnamed but all-of-a-sudden-quite-powerful consultant.

It's impossible not to applaud the generosity and good intent of the funders. Dallas has one of the highest crime rates in the country among big cities and needs the help. But the possibility of a major city becoming dependent on private foundations to pay for basic public safety expenses raises a host of questions I haven't thought through. For starters, to what extent is it appropriate for grantmakers to usurp police management authority, e.g., by insisting that a consultant, not the police department's command structure or the city council, will decide how spending should be prioritized?

My gut tells me police salaries should be paid by tax dollars, but it'd be foolhardy for the Dallas City Council to decline the money. I'm not sure how I feel about this. A lot depends on who are the consultants and how they make their decisions.


Mark Cohan said...

One of the things you're overlooking is that cities depend on grants. Whenever they kick off new programs, they usually have people combing both the public and private sectors looking for people willing to help.

Public schools do it as well. Foundations like the Beaumont Foundation are there specifically to help government (and other nonprofit) organizations accomplish compatible goals.

Don't worry about it too much, Dallas will still most likely issue a bond package to help pay for several hundred new police officers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I agree, but that's a little different from paying for salaries of beat officers with grant money. Where that happens, e.g., with federal Byrne grants, it's caused problems.

A bond package to pay for new officers is worse than grants, BTW. You don't pay salaries with debt!! If Dallas needs more cops, IMO, it should pay for them with tax dollars. With debt, down the line you'll be obligated for both their salaries and the interest!

Mark Cohan said...

The current mayor is heavily against raising taxes. They're more of a favor of bond packages and having the increased commerce pay the bills. If you watch what they're doing with downtown Dallas, it reflects their beliefs pretty well. Aside from the huge piece of pork that is the Trinity River Project, they've done a pretty good job of revitalizing downtown and working to get increased tax revenue down there.

They're actually pretty sharp with the budget. If you watch a city council meeting, you'll see councilman Rasansky rip any items he thinks could be made more efficient out of the agenda for further scrutiny.

But yes, I completely agree about how we should work on paying off our debts now, rather than later. They're going to hold a referendum on another bond package later on in November, this time for a homeless shelter.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Debt's fine for construction, be it a homeless shelter, highways, or whatever else. Using debt for current salaries, though, is ridiculously irresponsible. If they're actually planning to borrow money for police salaries, I'd dispute that "sharp" assessment. That's just political cowardice, punting the tax increases to the next council, IMO. Best,

Mark Cohan said...

Yep, but that's what happens when city governments are forced to not have a deficit and have leaders at the helm who refuse to raise taxes.