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Bexar County Commissioners receive update on winter weather readiness, upcoming elections and more

Bexar County Courthouse
Paul Flahive

It's been nearly a year since a winter storm hit the area, knocking out power and water to hundreds of thousands of Bexar County residents. On Tuesday, the County Emergency Management Coordinator, Chris Lopez, updated County Commissioners about preparations for the next big storm. 

Lopez told commissioners the county's first responders have conducted joint exercises with the city, CPS Energy and SAWS in weather-related emergency scenarios.

Lopez said the county has also applied for a grant to purchase eight mobile generators that could power emergency shelters.

County Commissioner Tommy Calvert suggested that the generators be strategically placed across the county.

"My thought process was do one maybe closer in and one further out within each commissioner's precinct," he said.

Lopez said the county has beefed up spending on emergency equipment including a new mobile command center, temporary shelter bedding and shower trailers.

He also said the Boerne, Northside and Judson Independent School Districts seemed willing to allow for their school gyms to be used as warming centers during power outages.

In other action, with little more than two weeks to go before early voting starts for the March 1 joint primary elections, the county's election administrator updated commissioners on preparations.  

Early voting starts on Feb. 14 and runs through Feb. 26 for the elections.  Elections administrator Jacque Callanen told commissioners early voting sites are a bit fluid due to the pandemic.  Some locations cannot be used for polling as they are COVID-19 testing sites, due to the transmission risk.

Some election workers have also missed work due to the virus.

The state's new law, SB1, bans county election officials from proactively sending mail-in ballot applications to voters, but TPR can tell you a mail-in ballot application can easily be found on the county's election website through bexar.org.  Just print it out at home, fill it out and mail it in.

Mail-in ballot applications must be received by the county election's office no later than Feb. 18.

Commissioners also approved more overtime funding to staff the county jail as dozens of detention guards test positive for COVID-19 and must stay home.

Sheriff Javier Salazar told commissioners a 15% pay raise in the new deputies union labor contract will improve the retention of detention deputies in the future, easing overtime costs. He also said a new department policy should also help.

"I think one of the other things that's gonna help us out is that for the first time we are removing the two year requirement.  You don't have to work in the jail for two years before crossing over into law enforcement," Salazar said.

County Commissioners and the sheriff have sparred over the tens of millions of dollars spent on jail overtime in each of the last couple of years.

The sheriff has said in the past that COVID-19, low deputy pay and changes to bail bond laws that have increased jail crowding are to blame. He also said the state should be picking up hundreds of inmates that should be in state jails, but instead are being housed and fed locally at taxpayer expense.

Commissioners also approved an interlocal agreement between the county, City of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority to complete capital improvements to the Creeks and Trails Program that are part of the Howard Peak Linear Creekways Program.

The county has committed $247 million as its share towards completion.

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