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Debate Over Bexar County Budget Amendments Resume Friday

Bexar County Commissione have been debating over amendments to $2.8 billion county budget before its scheduled adoption next Tuesday.png
Bexar County
County commissioners this week have been debating over amendments to the county's 2.8 billion dollar budget. Commissioners are pictured on Tuesday from their meeting live stream

Bexar County Commissioners will continue debate over the $2.8 million county budget on Friday at 2 p.m. The public meeting will be streamed here.

Items still to be decided include property tax relief, some capital improvement projects and a one-time lump sum bonus to hourly county workers. Commissioners will also discuss whether federal COVID-19 relief dollars might be used to prevent 12 law enforcement positions from being shifted from the sheriff's office to constables offices.

The budget is scheduled for a final vote after a public hearing on Tuesday. It would keep the property tax rate the same at 30 cents per $100 valuation, but residents and businesses will still pay more property taxes due to an increase in appraised values.

Precinct 1 Bexar County Constable Ruben Tejeda thanked county commissioners on Tuesday for providing them with more deputy constables in the next fiscal year county budget. Tejeda earlier this year asked commissioners to budget for more deputy constables to handle an expected increase in evictions related to the pandemic.

With the moratorium on evictions gone and live court proceedings possible this fall, eviction notices related to the pandemic are expected to jump.

Bexar County Constables serve those notices, and they often dispatch two deputy constables at a time when someone is forced out of their home. Tejeda told commissioners the reallocation of 12 positions from the sheriff's office to the constable offices, returns them to previous staffing levels.

"I just want to thank each and every one of you for consideration of giving us back our staff," Tejeda said.

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Sheriff Javier Salazar objected to the move in a letter to commissioners and during his own appearance before them on Tuesday.

He characterized it as defunding the police at a time when violent crimes, crimes against the elderly and organized crime are all up.

Commissioner Trish DeBerry rejected the sheriff's characterization.

"We're trying to provide more constables to our individual precincts to patrol the unincorporated areas of the county as well as serve warrants," she said.

Commissioners are also considering providing deputies with a 5% pay raise with or without a labor contract with the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Bexar County, since they have already approved one for all other county employees, expect for some judges.

The head of the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Bexar County told county commissioners labor talks with the county have stalled over vague contract language. Jeremy Payne said county negotiators have been unable to agree on the process to enact policies on a new citizens advisory board, lateral transfers and civil service appeals.

Payne also painted a bleak picture of the sheriff's department.

"Twenty-two people are leaving the sheriff's office every month, the deputies have not had a pay raise in two years. The sheriff is spending his Friday nights at high school football games pleading for anyone to come and apply to work for us," he said.

The contract has an evergreen clause that will not allow it to formally expire until September 2022.

Another budget concern is high overtime staffing costs at the county jail. About $8 million have been budgeted for the next fiscal year which starts on Oct. 1.

Sheriff Salazar blames some of the overtime costs on the state, which at present has not picked up 248 inmates that should be in state prison, only adding to the jail's population of around 4,000 inmates.

County Judge Nelson Wolff directed county legal staff to review the potential for a county lawsuit against the state over those inmates.

"I would really like to see you come up with an idea how we can sue the state on this. This is just crazy. What do they do? They decommission a prison and put four migrants in it while we're having to hold these deadly criminals here in our jail when they should be taken in the prison system," Wolff said.

The budget is scheduled for a final vote after a public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

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