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San Antonio City Council Approves 2021 City Budget at $2.9B With No Major Cuts To Police Budget

Jolene Almendarez | Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus talks to community members during one the city's public feedback sessions on policing during ealier in the summer.

The San Antonio City Council approved the city’s $2.9 billion operating budget for 2021 on Thursday.

The budget’s passage came as the city saw a massive decline in sales and hotel tax revenues due to COVID-19 and protests that called for the defunding of the San Antonio Police Department. The police budget included an $8 million increase over 2020’s budget, which activists had campaigned against.

As a result, the 2021 budget is $4.4 million less than its 2020 predecessor. By the city’s estimates, it made more than $87 million in cuts over the next two years. The city instituted a hiring freeze and suspended economic incentives to offset some of the costs.

The budget saw one of the smallest increases in recent years for the San Antonio Police Department. There was a 5% raise for officers mandated in with the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the San Antonio Police Officers Association. There were reductions to the budget, including eliminating overtime for officers and eliminating hiring bonuses for new cadets.

The increase riled local groups like Defund Coalition San Antonio, which have echoed nationwide pushes for the reduction of funding in police departments. The City of Austin cut $20 million from its upcoming police budget, as reported by KUT.

During this part of the meeting on Thursday, San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh said conversations about police and community relations were not over and would expand into the next year.

“It is going to be critical that we continue this conversation,” he said. “It is a conversation that in some areas began before the killing of George Floyd but has intensified over the summer, and we understand the importance, and we will be diligent and work hard.”

Activists and community members were not pleased.

District 1 resident Gina Kramer was one of nearly three dozen people who signed up to address the council, most of whom spoke against the police budget. Kramer referred to several Black men who died during encounters with local law enforcement.

“How many people will be murdered by police before our elected officials begin to work towards actual change?” she asked. “We will continue to keep fighting for better long after this budget vote, and I hope that you all will take steps to do the same.”

Two days before the budget’s passage, Darrell Zemault was killed by a San Antonio police officer during a struggle in which police said Zemault reached for an officer’s service weapon.

The budget passed unanimously by the city council.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he was grateful to the activists for drawing attention to the need to review the police.

“The deaths of Black lives at the hands of the police has shed a bright spotlight on the work that we have all yet to do and we will do to improve policing and public safety in the United States,” Nirenberg said. “ In order to live up to the recognition that Black lives matter, San Antonio must not be an exception. While this budget may not be the exact set changes that some of the residents have called for, I believe it does commit to the health, housing, and workforce needs of our city.”

The council’s decision prompted praise from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who had indicated Texas cities may see state intervention or a reduction in property tax revenue if they defund police departments.

Earlier this year, the council approved a massive $191 million recovery plan that included workforce development, housing assistance, small business support and digital inclusion.

Some of the budget adjustments proposed and approved by council members during a work session before Thursday’s council meeting included $1 million to the San Antonio Food Bank towards creating a community kitchen in response to the pandemic and an additional $2.1 million towards emergency rental housing assistance for vulnerable populations.

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

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