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Developing 2018 City Budget Faces External Uncertainty

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Joey Palacios
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Texas Public Radio
Council members listen to the city's 2018 budget presentation at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

The San Antonio City Council spent over eight hours outlining its priorities for the 2018 budget on Wednesday.  Public safety, streets, sidewalks, and transportation remain at the top of the list.

The 2018 city budget is in its infancy right now.  It will take a few months to iron out. Council members pitched ideas like expanding internet access, balancing income inequality, and neighborhood improvements.

On his push for more internet availability District 2 Councilman William Cruz Shaw said he’d like to see city staff be creative in spreading WIFI and internet access.

“If we are expecting our kids to be able to move to the 21st century in technology they have to be given opportunities not only at their libraries or their schools but at their homes.”

District 3 councilwoman Rebecca Viagran joined him in that concern.

“Especially now, an as we’re talking about ending the economic segregation that exists …we have moved to a society where filling out job applications is now online, Viagran said. “But when we have families who don’t have access to computers, or access to Wi-Fi, or the internet, and have to go the library to get that, we need to make sure our libraries are properly outfitted with what they need.”

There are a few revenue fears on the city’s horizon. Mayor Nirenberg says proposed cuts by the Trump administration to community development grants and the potential revenue caps from the Texas legislature pose a cautious outlook.

“There are many proposals that are on the table that could be damaging to local communities and we just need to make sure we’re in a good, strong, and resilient position for it.”

In its budget presentation, the city also lists the Bathroom Bill, Senate Bill 4, and the religious adoption refusal as impacts to the city's tourism industry.

Council member Manny Pelaez suggested the city was not taking concerns regarding Base Realignment and Closure – or BRAC - seriously enough. “I’m anxious, bordering on panicking, about the next BRAC round will bring,” he said.

The military is expected to evaluate installations for BRAC near the end of the decade.  San Antonio lost Kelly Air Force Base in the 1990’s in that round. Pelaez fears if installations like Camp Bullis, Randolph Air Force Base, or Lackland Air Force Base are closed, it would be devastating for San Antonio’s economy.

“We lose those jobs and that will be a major kick in the gut. One that we may not be able to recover for generations from,” Pelaez said.

Jeff Coyle, Director of the City’s Government and Public Affairs Department said the city is preparing. The community has a military transformation task force that includes one city council member, one county commissioner, and chamber representative, he said.

That task force is being reconfigured to identify vulnerabilities with the BRAC.  “We generally feel that our bases are well suited to add missions more than lose them,” said Coyle. “That said the vulnerabilities that have been identified over time – the greatest is probably Randolph where they do the pilot training.”

The City is looking at one proposed revenue source that would introduce a new transportation fee of seven to $12 on monthly utility bills. The idea was introduced by city staff and came as a surprise to council members, especially District 6’s Greg Brockhouse.

“There’s been absolutely zero briefing as to what that is, what that does, what it means, where it comes from how it operates, how it works, who manages it, it’s a lot that goes into that animal.”

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Credit City of San Antonio
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The city may explore the option of a new fee added to utility bills

The city may also consider a one cent tax rate increase. The city has not raised the tax rate in 24 years and decreased it seven times according to city manager Sheryl Sculley.

The fee, as with all parts of the budget, is not yet set. Mayor Nirenberg says with everything proposed the city budget is over by about 2.5 million dollars.

District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said he would like to see where the budget could be tightened before any new fees are considered.

“We have a lot of requirements here but first I think we need to look at where we can tighten our belts to try to meet the basic requirements we have and then see what else we can afford to do,” Perry said.

By law, the city budget must be balanced so some new ideas the city is looking at could be cut. What makes the final list will be presented to Council in August. The budget will be approved September 14th