By The Dallas Morning News
The collective sigh of relief emanating from Dallas City Hall last week was audible evidence of a monumental deal — one that almost certainly will remove the biggest fiscal threat hanging over local government.
An executive committee that represents nearly 8,700 current and former police officers and firefighters has agreed to a $173.3 million settlement of decades-old class-action lawsuits against Dallas over years of back pay claims.
The City Council, which seven months ago approved $61.7 million to settle four similar cases filed in Collin County, is almost certain to approve this final set of lawsuits, which were filed in Rockwall County.
The settlements are far from cheap, but they remove the dark cloud that has hung over the city’s finances, one that left Dallas susceptible to bankruptcy. And we share the hope that the settlement will be a step toward alleviating distrust between 1500 Marilla and our city’s first responders.
City Hall maintains that the two deals will not require a tax increase; both will use existing bond capacity to cover the terms of the agreement. The settlement also spares both sides from having the case continue to drag in the courts with no end in sight. At the heart of the fight was the interpretation of language in a 1979 pay referendum approved by voters.
Even if the Dallas City Council, as expected, OKs the settlement this summer, many time-consuming details will remain to be worked out. But the overwhelming sentiment among all parties is that the deal is done.
For both sides, losing the case would have led to catastrophic consequences — the possibility of a multi-billion dollar judgment for the city or the plaintiffs coming away with nothing.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and City Attorney Larry Casto deserve a lot of credit for focusing the time and resources necessary to get this gnarly problem resolved.
Rawlings recognized the financial folly in continuing to kick this ticking time bomb down the road. So while previous mayors and councils had found it most convenient to ignore the problem, Rawlings put City Hall to work to fix it. Casto was the guy in the room for the difficult negotiations.
But big credit also should go to the police officers and firefighters for being willing to settle for a lower figure than what they long wanted.
It’s great to see that the dark fiscal cloud that threatened the city is dissipating. Just as we noted in the aftermath of the settlement of the first-responders’ lawsuits out of Collin County, City Hall’s promise that the deal won’t translate to tax increases must stick. We’ll be watching to make sure that’s the case.