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About 250 San Antonio Businesses Closed During The Pandemic According To Commissioners

Officials with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce said many downtown members were among the Bexar County business closures.
Bri Kirkham
Texas Public Radio
Officials with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce said many downtown members were among the Bexar County business closures.

Bexar County Commissioners voted Tuesday to grant $600,000 to 13 local chambers of commerce who lost business members or covered their business members' dues during the pandemic.

Many businesses stopped paying membership fees to local chambers or closed due to the pandemic. The president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Richard Perez, said many downtown members were among the closures.

"We have seen about 250 members cease to exist. Their business is closed and most of them permanently. So we were at 2,000 — now we are at about 1,800," he said.

The chambers were directed by commissioners to spend the funding on membership benefits, fundraising events, networking, education and leadership development. The chambers were the first place many businesses turned to for assistance to survive the pandemic. They helped the businesses connect with local, state and federal relief efforts.

Texas Western Warehouse at the corner of Commerce and Soledad Streets holds a store closing sale.
Bri Kirkham
Texas Public Radio
Texas Western Warehouse at the corner of Commerce and Soledad Streets holds a store closing sale.

In other action at Tuesday's Commissioners meeting, County District Judge Ron Rangel announced in-person trials will resume on June 1 as COVID-19 conditions improve. Court hearings went virtual during the pandemic.

Rangel oversees court operations as the administrative judge. He said the start-up will be done on a small scale at first.

"The way we're going to do it is one person, one case jury trial on the district court side, criminal cases, per day, so there is only going to one voir dire or jury selection per day. There is going to be one civil selection per day," the judge said.

Rangel said accommodations will be made for any juror who does not want to appear in-person out of pandemic concerns. He said all COVID-19 protocols will be followed during in-person hearings.

The judge said local courts will follow the direction of the Texas Supreme Court on court proceedings.

County Commissioners this week also looked into overtime costs on the law enforcement side of the sheriff's office.

The sheriff's department reported $459,000 dollars in overtime pay related criminal to investigations for the month of March.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said overtime costs are common in law enforcement, especially when major cases arise, such as the shooting of a Balcones Police officer and the four-day manhunt for two suspects that followed.

"We ended up getting both in custody. We caught one in Mexico with the help of Mexican authorities and then the other one was caught here locally. But we had people around the clock working a command center trying to get these folks caught," Salazar said.

The officer survived.

Salazar told commissioners he will be asking for more detectives in the next budget cycle to work cases to reduce overtime hours

Commissioners have shown continuous concern about overtime costs at the jail due to a high turnover rate of deputies there, which amounted to $10 million last year. The sheriff has responded with recruitment drives and hiring bonuses.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners approved an agreement with the Comal Independent School District to provide a deputy for school patrols through May.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said they have several schools within Bexar County.

"A while back we were approached by Comal Independent School District, which I believe has five schools in Bexar County. They don't have a dedicated school district police officer there, and so they wanted to know the feasibility of hiring a deputy and using an on-duty deputy," said Salazar.

The school district will reimburse the county for costs associated with the deputy patrols. The sheriff and a school district representative said the patrols have been well-received and more may continue in the future.

Commissioners court also received a briefing from Tiffany Jones-Smith, the CEO of the Texas Kidney Foundation, who said 46% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are discharged with some stage of kidney disease.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said the report is another reason for local residents to get vaccinated. Wolff is concerned because vaccination hesitancy and complacency seems to be on the rise locally.

"You hear these terrible, terrible stories that have happened to family and loved members and just a lot of people that continue to ignore it and act like it's not here and it could strike them one day," Wolff said.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian