Council to vote on budget cuts to pay for health care

Plan slashes $14.2 million from General Fund

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council will vote Tuesday on a plan to cut millions of dollars from the city's General Fund in order to pay for health care coverage for public safety employees.

The plan would cut $8.8 million from the Street Maintenance budget, $3.3 million from the San Antonio Police Department budget, and $1.9 million from the San Antonio Fire Department budget. The approximately $14.2 million would be used to pay for health care coverage for uniformed employees.

The cut to the maintenance fund comes just months after the city approved an additional $15 million for streets maintenance in the current budget.

"The No. 1 priority we heard from the community … was more street maintenance," said City Manager Sheryl Sculley. "We added $15 million  to the budget, so we're cutting that in half. It's very frustrating, but we're required by law to have a balanced budget."

Street projects slated to begin in 2015 will be deferred to 2016.

The cuts to the SAPD budget will prevent the department from filling 35 positions, which are in addition to the 40 positions the city will leave unfilled in 2015. San Antonio police Chief William McManus was confident that public safety would not be compromised.

"There will not be a big impact. We experience budget cuts all the time, in every city. You deal with it as it comes," McManus said. "We'll evaluate it as we move forward, but if we ever get to that point (where it will impact public safety), we'll look down the road to see if and when we'll need a cadet class to be installed."

The cuts will also keep the fire department from training new paramedics next year. Chief Charles Hood said the department currently has a surplus of paramedics so there will be no impact in the short-term, but a prolonged impasse could have serious consequences.

"Every single day, about 54 percent of our fire trucks are manned with paramedics. We would have to take some of those paramedics that were on fire trucks currently and staff medic units in 2016 if that were to happen," said Hood.

Stalled negotiations have not had a direct impact on the city's budget until now, but it won't force the police union to make a hasty return to the negotiating table. The group will head to court in the coming months after the city challenged the 10-year evergreen clause in the union's current contract.

"There's probably a strong likelihood that we would probably still try to work issues out at the negotiating table, but we really have to wait for our legal people to tell us yes or no," said union president Michael Helle.

Sculley said the cuts will not result in any layoffs. The council will hold a special session Tuesday at 9 a.m. to vote on the measure.