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San Antonio

County Commissioners Want To Make Voting Safer, Allocate Funding To Residents Who Need Housing

A voter walks into a San Antonio polling place for the Super Tuesday primary on March 3, 2020.
Lauren Terrazas | Texas Public Radio
A voter walks into a San Antonio polling place for the Super Tuesday primary on March 3, 2020.

Bexar County Commissioners met on Tuesday to discuss a myriad of concerns related to COVID-19, including the November election, housing assistance and the overall unease of the public health crisis.

ELECTION

Due to widespread delays in USPS deliveries, as well as the removal of several mail-sorting machines from a mail distribution center in San Antonio, the commissioners expressed concern for the upcoming election.

The group directed county staff to begin contract negotiations with private mail carriers for the delivery of mail-in ballot applications to residents 65 and older for the Nov. 3 election.

The staff will work with Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen to create a mailing list of voters who are eligible and to  send those residents mail-in voting applications with two-way paid postage. The commissioners want to keep residents who are high-risk for COVID-19 at home on Election Day and away from long voting lines.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said private carriers have to be considered and that contract talks need to start quickly for the applications to be approved in time for the election.

“What we’re worried about because of all the information we are getting from the postal system is that they may not be able to deliver them. So, the question is, ‘Can we give the county manager authority to get a contract signed with somebody?’” he said.

Commissioners are expected to hear an update on the contract discussions next Tuesday.

BEXAR COUNTY STRONG

Also on Tuesday, the commissioners heard an update on spending under the Bexar County Strong program, which aims to assist residents with finding jobs and housing as the COVID-19 crisis persists.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez is concerned about a backlog of 900 cases in which residents sought help with rent and other housing costs. These cases fall under the Temporary Rental Assistance Measure (TRAM).

Rodriguez said the county has yet to spend $1 million of the $5.4 million for the program.

“We got to figure out how to get that money out there quicker,” Rodriguez said.

Bexar County Economic and Community Development Director David Marquez said they are taking action to tackle the backlog, including possibly moving TRAM to the City of San Antonio.

SMALL BUSINESSES

Commissioners had good news for small local businesses that collectively took $5 million in loans from the county when the outbreak began. Those loans have now been converted into completely forgivable grants.

They also approved $500,000 more in funding for the Bexar County Family Justice Center, as domestic violence has increased during the virus outbreak.

Executive Director Crystal Chandler, told commissioners the center took in 54% more cases in June than it did during the same month last year. She said a new online protective order system should reduce wait time for victims.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez said those domestic violence victims include grandparents, who are being pressured or threatened by children and grandchildren to make changes to their wills during this time of uncertainty.

HOSPITAL CAPACITY

Commissioners also heard from Post Acute Medical Specialty Hospital officials, who reduced the COVID-19 patient load on the University Health System by accepting 250 patients that required extensive ICU stays.

Dr. Andro Herrera-Mendoza said such public-private collaborations will be important in post-acute care for patients as the outbreak continues.

Some patients are still not recovered 60-days after illness, he said, so acute care needs will be growing even more.

Herrera-Mendoza said “we’re in a perfect storm” with a trifecta of experiencing the long-term effects of COVID, the more immediate COVID-19 response this fall and the impending flu season.

He said the start of the school year and complacency are other threats to maintaining progress.

OTHER ACTION

University Health System President and Executive George Hernandez recommended to commissioners to keep the hospital district property tax rate at 27 cents per $100 valuation. UHS reports only 22% of its budget comes from the property tax rate. County commissioners will adopt the final UHS tax rate following a public meeting on Sept. 1. 

Hospital officials are still working on the budget for 2021, but last year it was more than $2 billion. The Women’s and Children’s Tower is expected to open in early 2023.

Commissioners also voted to rename the Bexar County Fire Marshal’s building after the late Kyle Coleman, the county’s director of emergency management who passed away from COVID-19.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.

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