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San Antonio's 2020 Budget Reaches $2.9 Billion Amid Financial Challenges

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio City Hall

The San Antonio city budget is reaching its highest amount yet at $2.9 billion. It’s a 3.1% increase over the 2019 budget.

The city was dealt a few revenue challenges toward the end of the 2019 Texas Legislative session but the 2020 budget is balanced with no reduction in city services, officials said Wednesday. The city’s 2020 fiscal year starts in October and includes several new initiatives like funding for domestic violence plans and additional police in the city’s entertainment districts.

This is the first budget for recently appointed City Manager Erik Walsh, who started the job in March. He’s the successor to former City Manager Sheryl Sculley who announced her retirement in December.

“I’m extremely confident that we put together a proposed budget that meets the council’s goals, is balanced, and prepares for some of the uncertainty that we’ll start facing next summer,” Walsh said.

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez and City Manager Erik Walsh

The financial curve balls thrown at the city by the 86th Texas Legislature came with the passage of caps on property tax revenue and the elimination of a municipal fee charged to telecom companies. The revenue caps won’t affect this budget, however, the city needed to adjust for a $7.4 million loss in from the telecoms.

“That’s permanent reoccurring revenue and we needed to think through – we’re either going to replace it with reoccurring revenue or we we’re going to make service cuts throughout the general fund,” Walsh said.  

As a result, the city needed to dip into funding sources from the San Antonio Water System.

When SAWS was formed in 1992, an ordinance was created that allowed the city to take up to 5%t of gross revenues generated by SAWS. The city has only taken 2.7% each year for the last 27 years.  For 2020, the city will increase that for the first time to 4%. That comes out to a $29 million total – about $9 million more than last year.

“If we were not doing this increase transfer from SAWS we would have to be cutting the budget,” said Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez. “From pool hours, library hours, animal care … it would be very tough reductions from the general fund.”

The increase in the SAWS transfer would not have an impact in water rates this year, city officials said.

“They’re in a good position to do this right now, to make that additional transfer to us and they’re not currently projecting that it would have rate impact at this point,” said Ben Gorzell, the city’s chief financial officer.

There was also lower than projected return on CPS Energy Revenues.

“Fuel rates are lower than what we had anticipated and also the weather has been a little milder than in prior years,” said Villagomez.

In total, the city’s revenues collected from CPS Energy are down a combined $23 million from both 2019’s adopted budget and the projected 2020 budget. Other shifts in finances include leveraging funds from the city’s external partners, reducing spending in some departments, and adjusting positions in some city offices.

About 13 city jobs are being eliminated – nine of which are filled. No employees are being let go, but instead reassigned to different positions. The positions being eliminated are mostly administrative in the San Antonio Police Department and finance office.

The budget includes $110 million for street maintenance and $17 million in sidewalk repair.

One of the newest introductions to the city’s policies is a plan to combat domestic violence. The budget will allocate about $1 million to the cause but how the money will be spent is not set in stone yet. At least half a million dollars will be spent on awareness campaigns.

“We’re also going to focus on working with the schools to address violence in general including teen dating violence and education for our youth,” Villagomez said.

The other half a million will be reserved to create programs and strategies that will need further council approval.

The city is also boosting funding for homelessness initiatives – about another $1 million. Half a million would go to Haven for Hope, the city’s leading homeless shelter and services agency, to assist with a large influx of families seen in the last 12 months.

Like domestic violence, the uses of the other half a million would be decided later. This is being funded through a new revenue source including a 50 cent increase to river barge rides and visits to the Tower of the Americas.

San Antonio Police Department will hire 16 new police officers dedicated to its Crisis Response Team and SAFFE Officers programs.

It’s also allocating about $272,000 for overtime pay to police officers specifically for patrolling several entertainment districts including the St. Mary’s Strip, North Main Avenue Strip, and the Pearl. About two additional officers will be on patrol five nights out of the week.

In the Fire Department, four new fire fighter positions are being added.

One of the biggest uncertainties lies within the fire budget. What’s unknown is the city’s contract with the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighter’s Association. The city and fire union are on the cusp of arbitration and it will be up to a panel of three arbitrators to decide a final contract  - and when that contract goes into effect will also be decided by arbitrators.

Walsh will present the budget to the city council Thursday morning. It will undergo about a month of revisions until the council adopts a final budget on Sep. 12.

This story will be updated.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.