DALLAS -- During the mayoral race in Dallas, Steve Bartlett was the only candidate who supported the city's existing conservative debt management policy.

But when he takes office next month, Mayor-elect Bartlett will face a shrinking tax base, loss of jobs to the suburbs, and federal mandates that are increasing while the need for more and better services continues. All of these are expected to make the current approach difficulty to maintain.

Wall Street analysts say such an approach is crucial for keeping the city's prized triple-A rating.

"We would want to see, at least initially, some continuity," said Chris Evangel, assistant vice president at Moody's Investors Service.

Those who know him say the former Republican congressman is ready for the challenge.

"He always knows detail," said Ray Hutchison, senior bond lawyer at Hutchison, Boyle, Brooks & Fisher in Dallas, one of the city's bond counsel. "He's very alert to the world of public finance."

At a Press Club of Dallas luncheon meeting two weeks ago, Mr. Bartlett was the only candidate for mayor who supported measures to ensure that the city keeps the triple-A rating it has had since 1973.

While others criticized city government for being too cautious at a time when Dallas needed bond-financed projects, Mr. Bartlett said the city should continue its policy of only issuing debt equal to what it has retired.

Mr. Bartlett estimated that Dallas might borrow from $75 million to $100 million early next year without risking its triple-A rating. Dallas is still spending its general obligation bond program approved in 1985.

"It goes without saying that he knows that if the bond rating goes down, it's going to cost more" to borrow, said Richard Galen, a spokesman for the mayor-elect, who was not available for comment. "He's very concerned that we don't use the bond market like a credit card and that we don't keeping going back until we can't spend anymore."

While Mr. Bartlett has yet to outline specifics of his fiscal policies, those who know him say his record in Congress and, earlier, on the Dallas City Council shows he has always looked hard at the cost of government.

Still, the city's fiscal policy will also be shaped by the expanded 14-member city council, which will include a majority of new members. The council chosen last Tuesday in citywide elections resulted from redistricting that ensures control of a number of council seats by Hispanics and blacks.

The two groups make up half of Dallas's population but have long been underrepresented in city matters.

While that may affect the philosophical outlook of the council, supporters say Mr. Bartlett brings with him a congressional history of coalition building.

"I think that Dallas is at a stage where a political person can be of benefit," said Mr. Hutchison, a friend of the mayor-elect. "I look for a very upbeat period for Dallas."

One incumbent council member expects the city to continue the management style that helped keep its triple-A rating during the oil and real estate busts of the last decade.

"We will have to tread very lightly on the way we approach debt in the future," said Councilman Jerry Bartos, who was elected to a third term last week.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is presented by the continued decline of property values.

Since property values peaked in 1986 at $61.7 billion, Dallas has watched its tax base slip nearly 27%, to $45.3 billion this year.

But since 1990 alone, taxable values slipped 4.79%, to $38.3 billion, according to the Dallas Central Appraisal District.

"Obviously there are some significant challenges for the new mayor," said Peter D'Erchia, senior vice president at Standard & Poor's Corp.

For instance, he said, the next administration must resolve a large housing discrimination lawsuit, continue to stabilize operations as the tax base drops, and keep improving relations with other local governments in Noth Texas.

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