Election night security, polling locations dominate Bexar County Commissioners meeting
Election night security and polling sites for the Nov. 8 elections dominated Tuesday's Bexar County Commissioners meeting.
County Judge Nelson Wolff said it's legal for Texans to carry guns to vote, but getting one past security and into where ballots are counted on election night is another matter. Wolff reassured Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen more security is coming to the county's election office.
"Guns are not allowed in our place and a guy had a gun standing behind you during the last count...and I don't want to see that happen again," he told Callanen.
County Commissioner Tommy Calvert told Callanen not to reduce polling sites on election night to save money because widening voter access is more important than ever.
"The number one issue for voters in the midterm right now is democracy, so this court is very much under the microscope for whether we are on the right side of history and the right side of the voters," Calvert said.
Several voting rights and civil rights activists also appeared to call for polling sites to not be reduced on election day, especially in underserved neighborhoods on the West and South Sides, where taking a day off or finding transportation to the polls may not be that easy.
Callanen reported 289 election day polling sites have been reduced to 258 because of low voter turnout at some locations, where only a dozen or more voters turned out for the entire previous major election day.
Judge Wolff reminded commissioners voters can vote at any of those polling locations with the current voting system. He said he was more concerned that there be plenty of early voting sites because a majority of voters will cast ballots early or by mail-in ballots.
Commissioners also discussed the county budget and the tax rate needed to fund it during their meeting. Staff recommended the property tax rate of nearly 30-cents per $100 valuation remain the same because of the growth in new property tax collections.
Commissioners also approved staff recommendations for 5% pay raises for elected officials, including themselves.
Commissioner Justin Rodriguez pointed out elected officials have the opportunity to opt out of the raise.
"Folks can decide just like I have in the past to not take it. But it's up to them. Everyone is dealing with inflation, so based on that I would make the motion that we move this forward," he said.
Including the raise, commissioners would earn around $146,000 to $156,000 a year. The successor for outgoing County Judge Nelson Wolff would earn $189,000.
Commissioners have previously approved two separate 5% pay raises for county workers.
The higher salaries would be included in the new budget. Figures are still fluid for the overall spending plan, but last year's county budget was $2.8 billion.
Commissioners on Tuesday also discussed the county hospital budget and the property tax rate needed to fund it for the coming fiscal year. Staff recommended the tax rate of 27-cents per $100 dollar valuation remain the same as new property tax collections make up the difference.
University Health President and CEO George Hernandez told commissioners he expects operating costs for the coming year to be $110 million more than this past year, largely due to the outside competition over nurse pay.
"You have agencies willing to recruit people at 2 or 3 times their salaries and people say, 'Well look I can pay off my car if I go work for this agency for three months,'" Hernandez said.
He added that University Health can make ends meet through higher revenues. The budget numbers are still soft, but last year's hospital district spending plan weighed in at $2.2 billion.
In other action commissioners:
- Approved a 10-year, 75% tax break for the new Bill Miller Barbecue corporate headquarters off Highway 151 and Old Highway 90 on the far West Side valued at more than $1.1 million. The new $55 million HQ is expected to help the company double the number of its 88 locations. It now operates in San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi. It is adding 24 new employees to an existing corporate staff of 413.
- Approved another $577,000 towards the Bexar County Workforce Training Center, which prepares workers for advanced manufacturing jobs, like those in the local vehicle manufacturing industry. The funding will expand the facility by another 5,000 square feet.
- Approved $500,000 for operations and programs for the next two years at the Alameda Theater downtown, which is undergoing revitalization.
- Approved $500,000 dollars for Child Advocates San Antonio and its Fortress of Hope project, where children who have suffered from trauma and neglect can receive help.
- Delayed approval of plans for the Ranch Creek Apartments in the Helotes area after some nearby homeowners expressed concerns over increased traffic, runoff, and loss of wildlife habitat. Residents presented a petition with 420 signatures against it. County Public Works Director Renee Green told the court the plans for the apartments have met engineering requirements so it received staff approval. Judge Wolff said the delay might give the homeowners an opportunity to meet and discuss their concerns with the developers because otherwise, under state law, there is nothing the county can do once a development meets engineering requirements.
- Commissioners also voted to accept a donation from Judge Wolff, and his wife Tracy, in the form of a collection of items and documents of historical significance to the county.