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Nirenberg highlights progress and challenges during pandemic while promising property tax relief in State of City address

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Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg delivers his 2022 "State of the City Address" to members of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce at the Tech Port Center and Arena in Port San Antonio.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s state of the city address touted the city’s response to COVID-19 and hinted at a roadmap for a post-pandemic economic future.

That measure includes a push at trying to lower property tax burden as the sales prices of homes reach tens of thousands of dollars over last year. The annual address organized by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce comes as voters begin casting ballots on the city’s $1.2 billion bond measure.

The state of the city address is often when the mayor announces new initiatives and highlights progress made over the past year. Nirenberg has had the unprecedented task of navigating a two-year pandemic while trying to protect the economic progress of the city.

“We've been through some hard times, but I am happy to report that the state of our city is strong,” Nirenberg said. “And with eyes wide open, we are moving forward. San Antonio has shown its resilience, and we will work to enhance that resilience with our historic investment in workforce development, addressing housing affordability needs, investing in infrastructure, and continuing economic development.”

The most pressing challenge the city is seeing home sales, property valuations and property taxes increase substantially.

“Let me assure everyone – property tax relief is coming. City staff is already pouring over the numbers, and City Council will consider proposals for moving forward with tax relief this fall,” Nirenberg said told the crowd of several hundred business leaders and organizations.

But what that would look like is undecided. It could include a mix of rolling back the tax rate by about two cents and increasing a city homestead exemption. Any impact it would have in reducing the city’s portion of the property tax bill is uncertain.

San Antonio makes up about one-fifth of a property tax bill for city residents and is one of the city’s largest revenue generators for its general fund along with CPS Energy revenues and the sales tax. Property taxes make up about 31% of the city’s general fund revenue at $410.3 million in the 2022 adopted city budget.

The median home sale price in San Antonio jumped up 14.5% according to Texas Realtors, fueling the increase in valuations across the city.

The city has taken some steps to offer property tax relief over the last few years but the result has been small for the average resident. Currently the city offers a .01% homestead exemption that offers a minimum of a $5,000 reduction in taxable value. That equates to an annual savings of $26 per year for a $200,000 home and equates to about a $6.2 million loss for the city.

This year the city may consider a 5% homestead exemption. The impact of which is about $56 for a home worth about $200,000.

Some Texas cities offer up to a 20% homestead exemption. When asked if that was something San Antonio could consider, Nirenberg said, “We’re going to provide relief in a focused manner as best we can with the tools that we have,” while noting that other jurisdictions like school districts and the county tax rates impact the tax bill as well.

Due to state law, the city may have to reduce its tax rate as well. Early projections by city budget leaders estimate that reduction could be about two cents off the current tax rate.

District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, a staunch advocate of reducing property tax burden, said he was hopeful.

“At the end of the day I’m sure it’s going to be one of these compromises and balancing acts to not only continue to provide the services that we do on a yearly basis but also provide that property tax relief to homeowners,” he said.

Looking forward into pandemic recovery, Nirenberg highlighted the plan approved by voters to use sales tax money towards a large scale jobs initiative called SA Ready to Work which will take its first applicatcants next month.

“SA: Ready to Work is ready to launch. It is designed to train residents for good jobs that match the needs of employers in our community and provide an opportunity for a stable career. This program is aspirational about the future of our city, but it is grounded in the real-world economy,” he said.

The program would continue the mission of the similar “Train for Jobs SA” program, which is being sunsetted, in preparing and training people out of work during the pandemic for new jobs.

“We are writing a bright new chapter in San Antonio's history,” he said. “If we do this right, SA: Ready to Work will be a big win that enhances the economic prospects for our workforce and employers.”

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