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Budget Requests A Challenge For City Council During Shortfall

The city of San Antonio is facing a $35 to $50 million shortfall in the general fund for 2014, but outside agencies are requesting funding in the next budget before decisions are made to cut or reduce their piece of the pie.

These are items that are considered unfunded, and city leaders must figure out if the city can afford the requests.

Leaders from the Witte Museum, which is owned by the city, asked the city council on Wednesday for $12 million over five years, including $2.4 million in 2014, for renovations and expansion. The New Witte Capital Campaign Chairman, Sam Dawson, said the Witte’s request is different from all the others because theirs is a one-time expense. He said the Witte, otherwise, is self-sustaining.

In addition, Dawson said the museum serves every district, not just a few.

“We were able to show that socio-economically, we address the entire city,” he said. “We were able to show that from an age demographics perspective, we address the entire city."

The Witte's President and CEO, Marise McDermott, is hopeful the council will decide to fund its project to modernize exhibit space, fix a leaking roof, and expand the lobby and elevator to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors the museum sees each year.

Other agencies requesting funds include the city’s Brooks City-Base, which is asking for $5 million in next year’s budget for infrastructure, and $25 million over five years. In the Human Services Department, a total of $9 million is being requested to expand three existing senior centers and to build a new one. ChildSafe and the Children’s Museum each want $100,000.

San Antonio City Council members will take up budget concerns next week during a goal-setting session to help determine the priorities for the city. Factoring into the session are the results from community-wide budget meetings. Budget director Maria Villagomez said residents expressed interest in funding infrastructure projects, libraries, and animal care.

"It is very challenging for us,” she said. “We are going to be making some tough decisions as we begin the process."

She said many people recommended that the city take a look at pension plans for public safety employees, and economic incentives it grants to businesses, as areas that could be reduced to help fill the budget gap.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.