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City of San Antonio Projects ‘Catastrophic’ Revenue Loss; Extends Stay-At-Home Orders Until April 30

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Joey Palacios
/
Texas Public Radio
Some members of the San Antonio City Council have begun using Skype to attend weekly meetings

The City of San Antonio’s Stay Home Work Safe orders will run until at least April 30 after the city council  approved their extension in a 10-1 vote Thursday amid grim projections about the budget.

Due to a loss in revenue from the hotel occupancy tax, the city is cutting programs and temporarily furloughing employees in multiple departments. The updated order included requirements that workers in nursing homes are not allowed to take shifts at multiple facilities, which officials hope will help curb the spread of COVID-19.

The extension of the stay-at-home order was expected after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order earlier this month extending his declaration into May. Bexar County also issued a new order on Monday that will last until April 30.

District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval was the lone no vote on extending the order. The councilwoman said she felt more discussion about some of the city’s policies was needed first.

“You’ve got the order, and it’s really just one piece in the whole response. Keeping people away is just one piece of that. In addition is how you do the testing, how you isolate, how you plan for the future? So I think there’s a few more things we should explore doing,” she said.

During the council meeting, city budget analysts said they expect a shortfall of $54 million from the hotel tax, Alamodome and convention center.

To offset that, cuts were made to departments like conventions and sports facilities, which are seeing a 30% reduction in their budgets. Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez told council members these projections could change.

“Should our conditions worsen we would have to take additional measures to be able to mitigate that. At the same time, even if things get better, then we would come back with the reinstatement of some of programs we’re deferring or suspending,” she said.

Cuts to arts funding

The city will make a 50% cut to history and preservation, an 18% cut to Visit San Antonio, which is the convention and visitor’s bureau, and a 24% cut to arts and culture. Arts agencies will not get any additional funding from the city after April disbursements.

“Two-thirds of the revenue we counted on within those six months is now gone, and so it is a herculean effort to make sure we can continue those operations, keep as many folks and organizations on a lifeline as possible, knowing that they’re all essential to us in terms of our culture and vibrancy of this community,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

In total, the city will furlough 270 employees from the convention and sports facilities, arts and culture and finance departments, as well as the offices of risk management and international relations.

“We are making sure that they are getting access to the Family First Leave Act that was included in the federal stimulus, and my hope is to make sure that we make adjustments now so that we can get back to business as quickly as possible,” said City Manager Erik Walsh.

The employees are expected to be furloughed until July 31st.

Funding for domestic violence prevention continues

Last week, the city announced more than $80 million in program cuts from its general fund budget, including $50 million to street maintenance, a $12 million cut to economic incentives,  and $3 million less for VIA Metropolitan Transit. Walsh also announced a hiring freeze and a relieving of about 90 temporary workers from their duties.

While the city is looking at programs it can scale back, funding for domestic violence prevention will stay intact. The city allocated $1 million to domestic violence prevention initiatives for the current fiscal year, and Nirenberg said that funding would stay.

“There’s no circumstance where the need for domestic violence services is going to be reduced in a crisis," he explained, "so we’re going to figure out a way to make sure that those services are intact – we have to – because there’s such a level of need out there that we can anticipate.”

As more families are staying home under public health orders, Nirenberg said there has been an 18% spike in domestic violence calls for service to police in the last week. During Thursday's daily COVID-19 briefing, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said there have been 50 requests for family violence protective orders in the last week.

Pre-K 4 SA lives on

The city council also approved moving the city’s upcoming Pre-K 4 SA reauthorization to November.

The council approved the move from May due to uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-K 4 SA is funded through an eighth of a cent sales tax that must be renewed every eight years.

The May vote was to allow administrators enough time to figure out if the program will continue past the 2021 school year. Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray said the program was adjusting to circumstances.

“Everything is different right now. We’re really trying to stay focused on the immediate needs of our families,” she said. “Now, more than ever, we see that Pre-K 4 SA is a vital resource for this community, not just for education but connecting families for resources and helping them with their own workforce issues.”

Since school is not in session due to the pandemic, many staff members of Pre-K 4 SA have assisted the San Antonio Food Bank. 

Baray said Pre-K 4 SA is expected to lose some sales tax revenue as a result of the pandemic. 

“Which means that we’re really going to have prioritize in our budget serving children and families first, which we always have done, but with additional sales tax we were able to reach out and provide grants and professional learning, and we’ll have to see what level of grants and professional learning we can provide going forward because we do want to take care of the children,” she said.

This fiscal year for Pre-K4 SA could see a drop of 9.3% or about $3.5 million. The next fiscal year could see a drop of 8.6% or about $2.9 million.

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

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