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County commissioners boost mental health at schools; hear expansion problems by emergency service districts

Credit: Wikicommons http://bit.ly/1CPNiYT

Bexar County commissioners on Tuesday approved about $1.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief grants to two school districts to boost mental health services for students.

The funding to the Alamo Heights and Southwest Independent School Districts joins previous rounds of funding to other school districts for the same purpose.

County Judge Peter Sakai, a former children’s court judge, said he would like to see the school districts spend the grants on treating those students who have found themselves in the local legal system.

But Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores, who originally pitched the funding for schools, said it was important to reach students before they find themselves in legal trouble or just to help them improve their overall mental health.

“One of the many reasons why I advocated for this ... is when I was at Brackenridge High School, I wish that I had access to services. Instead of getting counseling in my 20s, it would have been great if I could have gotten it in my teens. And I’m someone who's not even gotten a speeding ticket,” she said.

In other action, commissioners heard an update from Melissa Shannon, the county’s governmental affairs director, on efforts to push through the county’s agenda of items during the state legislative session in Austin.

She told commissioners the county will request $17 million to create mental health beds, including maximum-security beds, on the grounds of the San Antonio State Hospital.

The maximum-security beds would be for inmates from the county jail declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. Other beds would be set aside for those committed to care by the courts.

Sheriff Javier Salazar told commissioners the maximum-security beds could help relieve the jail population aggravated by the state’s failure to pick up inmates that should be in state mental health facilities.

Shannon also told commissioners they are pushing for changes to a law that places a $20,000 debt cap on the Emergency Services Districts in unincorporated areas of the county.

Robert Hogan, the chief of ESD No. 10, said the cap was put into place in case the City of San Antonio annexed outlying areas, the city would not take on high debt liabilities racked up by ESDs.

The city has to sign off on the ESDs acquiring debt above the cap.

But he said that cap is causing problems for the construction of new fire facilities in parts of the county that are booming in population. Around half a million residents live in unincorporated areas not served by the City of San Antonio.

“We are having problems today. Every ESD is having problems going through this process to cover your constituents. The City of San Antonio has council members. You are the only representation for unincorporated Bexar County,” Hogan said.

Many outlying areas in recent years voted against annexation by the city, and unless there are major changes to state law, they are likely to remain that way.

Hogan also told commissioners the city has found a way to absorb property taxes that should be going to support ESDs through agreements signed with developers.

Commissioner Tommy Calvert encouraged staff to keep the lines of communication open with the city as another means to solve the debt issues.

Also on the agenda:

  • Commissioners approved plans for the Valero Texas Open Golf Tournament from March 25 through April 2 at the J.W. Marriott Hill Country Resort and Spa. The event has raised $209 million for charity over its 100-year history and past venues. As many as 60,000 visitors are expected.
  • Commissioners heard an update to convert the historic Lerma’s nightclub on North Zarzamora into an all-digital library or Bibliotech. Artist renderings presented to commissioners show its facade largely preserved. Commissioner Justin Rodriguez praised the renderings but suggested signs on the exterior of the building to be scaled down. The building remains in the early design phase and remains subject to change.
  • Commissioners approved a grant agreement through September 2023 for the San Antonio Philharmonic valued at $325,000 and another one valued at $225,000 for the Classical Musical Institute. It also runs through September 2023. Republican Commissioner Grant Moody questioned the need for the county to fund similar arts organizations that would compete against each other for audience and support. Clay-Flores said a metro area of more than two million residents needs both organizations.
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