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A $1.2 Billion Bond Will Go To San Antonio Voters Next May, But City Council Has To Decide Which Projects Will Get Funded

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Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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San Antonio City Hall

The City of San Antonio is weighing its largest bond ever — $1.2 billion — to take to voters in 2022.

The city estimates it needs about $6.5 billion, but what’s included in the final package is up to the City Council. The city is beginning to decide which projects ranging from street maintenance to new housing will get funded.

The bond will also include drainage, flood control, city facilities, public safety facilities and parks among its prospects.

About $2.8 billion worth of projects have been requested from council members, city departments, outside agencies or even citizen calls to 311. Those equate to about 398 different projects — a full list of which has not yet been released.

The bond is a twice-a-decade undertaking where voters will decide on multiple propositions — each containing several hundred millions of dollars worth of projects. Many of those projects are too costly for the city to include in its annual budget.

San Antonio’s City Manager Erik Walsh said decisions on those projects will happen between now and January.

“It’s really incumbent upon us to make sure that we are dedicating the resources necessary to improve the quality of life, more connectivity, or the resiliency of the city,” Walsh said.

San Antonio voters have overwhelmingly approved the city’s bond proposals since 1994. Most have been introduced every five years and the packages have swelled in size each year from $109 million in its first bond to the potential $1.2 billion bond next year.

1994: $109.7 Million

1999: $140.2 Million

2003: $115 Million

2007: $550 Million

2012: $592 Million

2017: $850 Million

“About 80% of the 2017 projects are completed or under construction,” Walsh said. “By the time this goes to the voters we’ll be at 97%.”

The projects in next year’s bond would be based on council priorities and several guiding principles that would be used to score the projects: connectivity, public health and safety, resiliency and equity.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg lamented the lack of federal support for roads and other connectivity projects over the last few years but said the city was managing within its financial capacity.

“It goes without saying this whole country has failed to invest in its infrastructure, it’s one of the reasons why there’s such an extremely important push going on for an infrastructure bill (in Congress),” Nirenberg said.

The city has about 4,200 miles of streets that it maintains. About 11%, or 457 miles, are considered “F” streets that are in need of significant repair. The estimated cost for all of those streets is about $915 million. The current proposal includes using $100 million of the bond to repair some of those streets.

In housing, the city is looking at potentially $250 million in supplementing the cost of new and renovated housing — nearly 28,000 units over 10 years. It’s a component that was unable to be included in previous bonds until voters approved a change to the city charter during the municipal election earlier this year.

The city estimates that about 95,000 households are cost-burdened, said Assistant City Manager Lori Houston. She explained that means that people in those households are paying more than 30% of their income in housing costs.

“We can help them,” Houston said. “There are two ways we can help them. One, we can increase their income, or two, we can facilitate the production of more affordable housing in this community.”

At least 1% of the bond is dedicated to arts projects — which is less than other cities in Texas and major municipalities have in their bonds: Austin uses 2%, Houston uses 1.75%, Dallas is at 1.5%.

If it stays as is, the city would invest about $12 million in public art, but that number could change depending on council input. At 1%, the city would create about 28-31 public art projects.

This is the first stage of the city’s public process for the entire bond; the city council will appoint a 28 member committee to suggest and oversee project selection. Those appointments are expected by Oct. 13, and the council will approve a final list of projects in January with voters deciding on the bond propositions next May.

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