In a 9-2 vote Thursday morning, the San Antonio City Council approved the city’s $2.3 billion 2014 fiscal year budget.
“We have done our best to ensure this budget meets the basic service needs of San Antonio and stays true to the basic function of city government,” said Mayor Julian Castro.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley said the budget is balanced.
It includes nearly $10 million in spending cuts and keeps property tax rates unchanged at 34.419 cents per $100 of taxable valuation.
Beginning in October, the city will charge a $1 per month Parks Environmental Fee.
The fee will generate approximately $6.4 million per year for park maintenance and free up general fund dollars to keep city libraries open 56 hours per week and fully staff the SAPD’s Crisis Response teams.
The lone No votes were District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan and District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules.
Chan said the budget is fiscally irresponsible because the city is spending more money than it’s taking in.
“We are living beyond our means and this is really against my spending principals,” Chand said. “I will not be part of this irresponsible behavior, so I will not be able to support the proposed budget.”
"I think that the city is living within its means and finding creative ways to continue to reduce overall expenses," she said.
After a last-minute motion, the city voted separately to add the $1 per month Parks Environmental Fee.
It passed 8-3 with Chan, Soules, and District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg voting No.
“In my opinion, this is more than a tax increase masquerading as a fee,” Soules said. “Instead of balancing this budget the right way, we're resorting to somewhat Band-Aid approaches of what I consider to be bad financial practices and then again hitting up the taxpayer.”
District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana said the fee will allow the city to provide core library services and keep all 20 domestic violence counselors working with police officers who respond to domestic violence calls.
“If we are not voting to support this fee we are systematically endorsing a policy that ignores our parks today and allows us to close some of our community centers,” he said.
Winners and losers
The 2014 budget includes a 5 percent across-the-board cut to the city’s 70 delegate agencies, but some agencies, like the George Gervin Centers, saw their funding completely cut.
“How is it that after all the support we have given the city of San Antonio by helping minorities to acquire these positions now all of a sudden not only have we been reduced from last year’s budget of $83,000, now we have been totally taken out of the budget,” said JD Kyle. “We sure would like an answer to that call.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Project QUEST.
The organization received an additional $400,000 to train IT workers.
“We, in the name of our participants, thank you for the investment for IT education,” said Sister Gabriella Lohan. “This is a new venture for project QUEST and a new venture for the city council.”
Sculley said the decision to grant funding to one agency and not another is based on a vigorous application process.
“To be able to retain jobs in our community as well as grow companies and attract technology companies to San Antonio, we have to have the workforce that can do those kinds of jobs,” she said. “So I think this is the council being nimble saying, ‘Wow, we have this proposal, it makes a lot of sense. It helps us with technology jobs that we know are needed.’”