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San Antonio's Budget Shortfall May Impact Children's Advocacy Agency

Ryan Loyd
TPR News

San Antonio is facing a $35 to $50 million shortfall in the 2014 budget and with that in mind, council members set out to define their goals for next year at a day-long goal-setting session at the Central Library on Tuesday.

Included in the budget are what’s known as unfunded requests, which are items the city doesn’t have the money to fund. Delegate agency ChildSafe is requesting $100,000 in 2014, and $500,000 over five years.

Director Kim Abernethy said the city promised her organization funding last year, but during the last round of talks, the city had to drop it from its budget.

"It worries me," she said.

However, unlike last year, Abernethy has two councilmen behind her: District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, and District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez.

"We're very excited that we've got two city councilmen championing us. That's a good start, that's a good plus to have them."

ChildSafe serves more than 3,000 children currently, but expects to serve even more in the future. The agency recently expanded its services from child victims of sexual abuse, to also include physical abuse and neglect.

Abernethy’s ChildSafe also receives help from Bexar County in the form of cash, as well as three dedicated forensics investigators.

"Funding is difficult for us and we would like to have the support of the city, funding wise," Abernethy said.

The council will take the month of July off, and will be back in August to hear the budget proposal by city staff. Council work sessions and community hearings will then take place between August 8 and September 12, when final adoption is expected.

Council members list their priorities

New District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg named neighborhood safety programs and providing adequate resources for public safety departments as a few of his top priorities. Several council members, including District 1’s Diego Bernal, District 9’s Elisa Chan and District 2’s Ivy Taylor said parks are important to them.

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña said SPARK parks (parks that are transformed into fitness parks for all ages) are at the top of his list.

Budget director Maria Villagomez updated the council on the circumstance facing the city’s leadership, including revenue projections that stand at 2.4 percent, while expenditures are expected to grow by 3.5 percent.

District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules, who represents the city’s North Side, suggested that new revenue sources need to be introduced to keep up with the demands of the city. When he asked the goal-setting session's mediator to add a potential property tax request – which he opposes – to the board, the idea was denied.

"It was funny that they refused to put that on the priority list -- said it was too political," Soules said. "Millions of dollars in shortfall and we have hit our debt capacity, so we cannot do all the capital programs being laid out today. What that tells me is that somebody’s looking at a tax increase in the future."

Soules said he is worried about the burden an increase will put on residents, considering proposed increases in utility costs.

"If we're going to follow up with a whole list of new spending measures, but we won't talk about a tax increase, then what are we doing here?" he asked."This is a budget session."

The San Antonio Water System is proposing a 13.5 percent increase in 2014. The increase was developed last year, according to SAWS spokesperson Anne Hayden, who said it could be reduced as possible as leaders go through the budget.

In 2013 SAWS rates increased by 8.4 percent, down from its original projection of 11.3 percent.

For electric customers, CPS Energy expects an increase to be requested in 2014. Spokesperson Christine Patmon said the last electric increase occurred in 2010 at 7.5 percent for electric and 8.5 percent for gas. Those increased rates went into effect March 1 that year.

CPS Energy predicted in 2008 that increases would be necessary every year to keep up with growth and to replace aging systems. Patmon said budget efficiencies kept rate increases at bay for several years.

Soules said he didn’t understand the functionality of a goal-setting session that fails to provide adequate means of revenue sources.

"If we're going to follow up with a whole list of new spending measures, but we won't talk about a tax increase, then what are we doing here?" he asked."This is a budget session."

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