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San Antonio City Council Approves $2.9 Billion Budget

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
The 11-member San Antonio City Council casts votes in favor of the 2020 operating budget for the City of San Antonio

The 2020 budget for the City of San Antonio is the largest in the city’s history at $2.9 billion. 

In addition to funding the city’s essential services, it includes new money such as $1 million for domestic violence initiatives and about $500,000 dollars as seed money for a new institute on Mexican American Civil Rights.  It also includes the city’s first ever homestead exemption.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the budget – which began gathering council amendments recommendations this summer – is a moral document for the city.

 “Before this council is a budget that serves our tax payers, honors our heritage, and builds a framework to provide socioeconomic and structural opportunities to each and every San Antonio resident no matter where they live,” Nirenberg said before Thursday’s vote.

It’s the first budget for new city manager Erik Walsh who was appointed to the position by the city council in March.

“This community has a lot of needs – I think the council members and the mayor know that,” Walsh said. “The needs do not match the resources, that’s why the prioritization is important, that’s why the community feedback is important because it helps us shape that.”

Overall, the budget includes $110 million for street maintenance; $17 million for sidewalk improvements; nearly $2 million for 16 new staff in the parks department; $1 million to address the city’s homelessness issues; nearly $35 million for housing initiatives. There’s also $1.3 to hire 16 new police officers assigned to crisis response in domestic violence situations and the city’s SAFFE program which has officers patrol and build relationships with specific neighborhoods.

About $1 million is being used for domestic violence interventions. About half a million dollars of that is being used to address family violence through a coordinated community awareness campaign and school-based violence prevention program. Another half a million will be used to community organizations to address gaps in service and assistance people may experience in a domestic violence crisis.

Over the last week council members requested new projects that could have potentially been shelved in the final version of the budget due to financial constraints. However, additional revenue was received from CPS Energy in August.

High temperatures caused high demand on the state’s electrical grid forcing its operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, to buy usage of CPS Energy’s system temporarily. The city’s chief financial officer Ben Gorzell said that netted an additional 7.8 million in what’s known as off-system sales.

“August was extremely hot across the entire state. You saw those couple of days where it just put a tremendous amount of pressure on generation and we saw those spikes,”Gorzell said. “So I think from our standpoint if that occurs in the future those would again be one of those one-time things that we would not want to rely on from a recurring standpoint.”

The city’s revenues from CPS Energy in August were the highest in the city’s history – about $46 million. The funds are being used for new projects and recommendations requested by the city council.

One of those is the creation of a Mexican American Civil Rights Institute.

There’s no timeline for the project yet but it includes $150,000 from the 2020 budget and will use another $150,000 from the 2021 budget. The institute is being proposed by a third party and would “research, chronicle and showcase Hispanic and contemporary Mexican-American milestones in education, community organizing,” and other initiatives forged in San Antonio, according to a draft plan.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said the timing for such an institute is now. 

“I think because we’re seeing an urgency of rhetoric against people with brown skin, or Latinos, or Mexican Americans, I think now is an important time for us not to erase that story, but capture the story, tell the story, and be proud of it as well, and to share that and not let it die,” she said.

Taxpayers will see an additional exemption. A homestead exemption of $5,000 is being applied to homeowners in San Antonio. The city takes up about 20% of the average homeowner's annual tax bill. It’s the first homestead exemption in the city’s history. It was a request made by District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry and District 9 Councilman John Courage.

Perry said he hoped this would not be the only measure that could be explored by the city.

“I’m going to challenge my colleagues on council that this isn’t the end of it,” Perry said. “That we continue to look for resources in the future to build on that homestead exemption, to offer more relief to our homeowners that are struggling out there, particularly those that are on fixed incomes.”

The city’s 2020 fiscal year begins on October 1.

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