An executive committee representing nearly 8,700 current and former Dallas, Texas, police officers and firefighters recently approved a settlement by which the city agreed to pay more than $173 million to settle decades-old lawsuits over years of unpaid wages. The settlement still needs to be approved by the City Council this summer, but the public safety workers and those representing them are pleased the litigation is finally moving in the right direction.
According to council members, Dallas will be able to pay out without increasing property taxes by funding the settlement with existing bond capacity.
Mayor Mike Rawlings called the decision “a prudent move for taxpayers” both financially and psychologically. “I’m very, very happy that we’ve resolved this,” he added. “This is a major clearing of the air, and there are no clouds over us anymore with these lawsuits.”
Rawlings had originally expressed concern that the lawsuits could bankrupt the city. But, by using the bond capacity may mean that the City Council won’t be able to lower taxes as much in coming years, he warned. “It’s a litigious world we live in,” Rawlings said. “When we are playing with taxpayer money, we want to take out as much risk as we can, and that’s what we did here.”
Council member Lee Kleinman indicated he was pleased the city has bonding capacity available to be rid of the cases, stating, “the council’s attitude was, ‘Let’s clean this stuff up and be done with it.”
The agreement over back wages comes almost seven months after the Dallas City Council voted to spend $61.7 million to settle four lawsuits in Collin County over the language of a 1979 pay referendum that was backed by police and firefighters and approved by voters.
Both sides had talked settlements at various times throughout the years in which the lawsuits have been in court without reaching an agreement. Now, City Attorney Larry Casto said they are still trying to figure out how to administer the settlement, with an average payout totaling about $20,000 per plaintiff. The plaintiffs will need to decide how to distribute the funds while considering rank, salary, and years of service.
Despite still having to fine-tune the details regarding disbursement of the wages due, he said, “This is a good day for the city that has been a long time in the making. It’s my hope all the parties involved see this as a fair and equitable deal, and I believe it is…There were times when I thought the two sides were too far apart to reach an accord.”
Ted Lyon, who represents the public safety workers said the recent deal “was the best we could get on all sides,” while Casto added, “the extreme either way was hurtful to both parties” in the “all-or-nothing” case.
“If and when it comes to pass, it will be a historic day for the city of Dallas. It’s been 24 years. It’s time for it to be over,” said Lyon. “It’s important for the city and all the firefighters and police officers to put this behind them and move forward constructively.”