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San Antonio City Council Approves Largest Budget Ever, With Last-Minute Vote Against Police Budget Cuts

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry
Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry

You can read this story in Spanish by clicking here.

The City of San Antonio’s 2022 budget is the largest in the city’s history. It restores services cut during the pandemic but faced a shortfall in the days before final revisions.

The council approved the budget Thursday 10-0 with one member abstaining from voting. During the meeting, several amendments were proposed including a reduction of funding in support to VIA Metropolitan Transit by District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry and cutting an increase in the San Antonio Police Department by District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez both of which failed with not enough support from council members.

The budget faced a short-lived deficit of $2 million due to lower revenues from CPS Energy during the months of July and August. To make up for it, the city would cut it’s economic development and inner-city development funds.

“I think today with the adoption of the budget, there's a large increase in our public health specifically and how we respond to mental health and our domestic violence programs, the huge investment in terms of how we do affordable housing,” City Manager Erik Walsh said. “We are continuing our emergency housing assistance program through the end of the year as long as we continue to get funds from the federal government or the state.”

Council members had suggested more than $50 million in amendments before the final budget vote. The vast majority of which did not make the cut. It’s possible some of those amendments could be funded later in the fiscal year with use of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act. One change that was included was the creation of a civil rights coordinator for the city that would be funded through the shifting of an already existing position.

Councilman Perry had indicated during a final budget work season earlier in the week that he would attempt to reduce the city’s tax rate. Perry attempted to remove the city’s contribution to VIA Metropolitan Transit — about $5.7 million — to satisfy a half-cent reduction to the property tax rate. He said with VIA getting about $93 million in federal support from coronavirus relief funds, the city could remove its contribution.

“Since (VIA is) getting all this extra money, shouldn't we reduce that small portion, the 5.7 million from their budget, to be able to afford a tax reduction here for San Antonio?” he asked.

That motion was unexpectedly supported by Councilman McKee-Rodriguez, who then offered a separate additional reduction: $5.7 million from the San Antonio Police Department. The police department’s budget is at $501 million for 2022; a 3.5% increase over 2021 or about $15 million.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez
Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez

McKee-Rodriguez said his measure would have decreased the amount the police budget is increasing this year. He said because of recently passed state law, it would be impossible to reduce the police budget later.

“So in the future, as we’re preparing for the safety and the well being of our community, we will not be able to continue to fund programs that our community is asking for, begging for, if we continue to increase the SAPD budget by only 3%,” he said.

Perry’s motion to remove the city’s funding to VIA failed on a 1-10 vote with Perry being the lone supporter, after multiple council members expressed their disapproval of removing that funding.

“I can't believe that we're going to turn our backs again on the taxpayer who's paying more and more taxes, property taxes every year. And we can't help them out. And I'm not saying that the city should do it all on our own,” he said.

McKee-Rodriguez’s motion to lessen the increase to the police budget also failed 3-8 with District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo and District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo voting in favor. Several council members had asked what the impact of losing the $5 million would be.

Walsh said it would mean the city would not be able to hire 15 additional police officers, 12 of which would be for its SAFFE (San Antonio Fear Free Environment) which has a specific officer assigned to certain neighborhoods.

After the vote and budget approval, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he didn’t support the measure because spending on the police department was under control.

“So now we have a structurally balanced budget that is able to grow at the rate of the growth of the city so that we can continue to fund things like streets and sidewalks, parks, libraries, in proportion with the city’s growth,” he said.

In this budget, the city did reallocate some police services to other departments including fireworks calls being handled by the San Antonio Fire Department and loud noise complaints by code compliance. Those changes would free up the time of about five SAPD officers to handle other calls for service.

The lone abstention on the budget vote was Councilman Bravo, who said none of his proposed amendments were included in the budget and did not favor the budget process.

The city’s budget takes effect on October 1.

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