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San Antonio's Proposed Budget Gives Police 5% Raise, Moves $1.3 Million From SAPD To Metro Health

San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh during the 2019 interview process to select a new city manager.
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh during the 2019 interview process to select a new city manager.

The City of San Antonio’s proposed 2021 budget is $2.9 billion. It’s flat with no growth due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed budget is about $7.7 million less than compared to 2020. In recent years, the budget has grown by more than $100 million. The 2021 budget is balanced but accounts for the loss of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue and other reductions. Over the next two years the city will cut about $87 million, a slightly more favorable prediction than the original $109 two-year reduction projected in June.

To offset the cuts, major adjustments were made across the city organization with many departments feeling the pinch.

“For this budget, it would have been a lot worse had we not made the adjustments we made in the spring time,” San Antonio City Manager Walsh said. “I think it goes back to if we need to adjust the sooner we do it, the better off we’ll be from a financial perspective.

In addition to presenting the budget to the council on Thursday, Walsh said he plans to introduce a plan to council for the 2022 budget.

“The efficiencies and reductions that we have to do are not as draconian as communities might experience because we have been working to manage the finances of this pandemic as early as February,” said San Antonio Mayor Nirenberg. “There has been yeoman’s work in ensuring that we can land soundly in the FY20 budget and that work is paying off as we move forward further into the recovery effort.”

The city will continue or start new community investments, such as $25 million for affordable housing, $120,000 for health corner stores, $1.1 million for the AlamoPROMISE scholarship, and $24.8 million to social services agencies.

None of the city’s employees will be laid off, Walsh said. Earlier this year, the city furloughed about 270 employees through the end of July. They won’t necessarily be getting their exact jobs back but they’ll be placed in another city department.

However, no civilian employee will see a pay raise this year. That includes cost of living increases. The city will keep its hiring freeze and have the possibility of furlough days for certain employees in 2022. It will also cut its travel budget by 50% and end cell phone allowances for employees that received it.

Walsh also said the city would start recognizing Juneteenth as an official day off for employees starting next year.

The police and fire departments will see pay increases for uniformed employees. Those pay raises are tied into collective bargaining agreements with the two unions that represent department employees. Police will receive a 5% raise and fire will see a 2% raise. Police officers will not have any overtime though. Part of Walsh’s recommendations to the budget include eliminating police overtime which would save the department about $3.4 million. The sum of that savings will instead be used for police raises.

Recent protests have seen calls for defunding the police in the form of reducing its budget. The budget in 2020 was about $479 million. The overall police budget is increasing by about 1.7% to $487 million.

About $1.3 million from SAPD’s budget will now go to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District to form a new division focused on the city’s violence prevention programs. That includes taking 20 Crisis Response Team staff members from SAPD into Metro health.

When asked about the calls for deeper cuts to SAPD, Walsh said that any changes would need to come from council discussion.

“What I am proposing: that if the council and community want to have that conversation that we talk about those foundational issues, what the expectations are, make sure we get input from a lot of people because I think a lot of people have different opinions,” Walsh said.

The plan for redefining the city’s policing roles also includes identifying funding and alternative responses as well as developing a new model for providing public safety.

The sales tax and hotel occupancy tax (HOT) are two areas the city took the hardest economic hits from the pandemic as people spent less in certain sectors and less visitors travelled to the city.

The city had projected to receive $120 million from the hotel occupancy tax for its 2020 fiscal year. However, it’s now only expected to receive $69 million by the end of the fiscal year next month. The city is only estimating it will receive $78 for the HOT in 2021.

Sales tax revenue is expected to be down about 5.7% for 2021 which equates to about $17.5 million less than 2020.

The airport is expected to see a revenue loss of $34 million. Only 5.3 million passengers are expected to pass through the airport this year when last year it was 10 million. Last week, the airport saw an average of 4,200 passengers per day, but the average the airport normally sees is about 15,000 a day.  

The proposed budget isn’t final. Although it was refined over the summer it will likely be revised during August and September after several budget work sessions with the city council. The budget must be adopted in September by city charter. The budget would take effect on Oct 1.  

Correction: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the budget of the San Antonio Police Department. It increased by about $8 million or 1.7 percent. 

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

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