Tough budget decisions loom for San Antonio City Council

Lack of revenues, rising public safety costs put city in tough spot


SAN ANTONIO – When city manager Sheryl Sculley unveiled her proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year, she made sure that the city faces some tough decisions when it comes to public safety.

The city's general fund expenditure budget comes in at $988,890,690. More than 66 percent of that money is used to fund the city's police and fire department.

Sculley said slow general fund revenue growth coupled with increases in operating costs for public safety have put the city in a tough spot.

"Revenues, as we projected them last May, are increasing by 2.4 percent and expenses to fund just what we're doing today are increasing at 3.5 percent, largely driven by the collective bargaining agreements," Sculley said.

The proposed budget includes more than $17 million for police and fire collective bargaining increases.

In 2009, the city changed the pension and healthcare benefits for civilian employees, something Sculley said she cannot do unilaterally to public safety departments because of collective bargaining.

In order to maintain current public safety staffing levels cuts must not only be made next year but over the next decade, unless revenues increase or the city cuts its public safety budget.

Based on current trends, public safety will make up 84 percent of general fund expenditures by 2024. It could reach 100 percent of general fund expenditures by 2031.

Sculley said the city would not allow that to happen, but in order to do that, difficult decisions must be made now.

"We've always, from a financial management standpoint, taken a look at what are the long term trends, and we're doing that while we take care of today's business," she said. "We'll be having more conversations with the council about it because it's something we have to deal with."

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