In the last of the city’s budget forums Thursday, Lake Highlands residents turned to a discussion of whether to raise taxes to offset the budget shortfall and retain the services they want.

Many were concerned about scaling back amenities such as senior services, libraries and recreation centers. “We should be prepared to pay for the things we want to have,” said Joan Walne of Lake Highlands.

Anne Buckley, also of Lake Highlands, backed her up: “You can’t keep operating with no income, and we are in a dire, dire situation here.”

More after the jump.

But Cleave Buchanan of Lakewood thinks that’s the wrong way to think. Government entities play to emotions when they need to make budget cuts, with threats of cutting services like libraries, he said.  “There’s a lot of fat in the budget, so let’s look where the fat is and not play on people’s emotions,” he said.

The city set up posters at the forum with descriptions of services that could be cut, and neighbors were asked to place green stickers next to things they wanted to keep and red stickers next to things they wanted to cut. Buchanan didn’t use any of his green stickers.  

“We’ve had great revenue growth, but we’ve never looked at zero-based budgeting and asked, ‘What can we afford?’ The overall focus should be reducing taxes,” he said.  “Don’t look at what we spent last year. Look at every department and ask, ‘What should we provide?’”

Many neighbors suggested that the Dallas Police Department, which needs to hire about 200 new officers, should hold off on hiring, or stagger hiring to save money.  According to the red-and-green stickers, neighbors thought the city could cut the Trinity River Project, business development, public works, legal services, transportation authority, and administrative staff in the offices of the Mayor, City Manager and city council members.

Neighbors wanted to retain code compliance and cultural services. They were split on police, public art and homeless outreach programs.