SAN ANTONIO – City Council members shared their priorities for the 2017 city budget in a daylong work session Wednesday at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
Council members took into account comments collected at public meetings and via surveys from roughly 5,000 residents. The amount of comments was more than quadruple the amount collected in years past.
Streets, sidewalks and public safety remain top priorities for those surveyed.
During a lengthy discussion, many council members agreed on the need for sidewalk improvements in various city districts.
“As we move forward with some of these dollars, we've got to find ways to address those sidewalks that are affordable and get to those right away,” said District 1 City Councilman Roberto Trevino.
City staff will use feedback from council members to craft the 2017 budget, which City Manager Sheryl Sculley will present to the council in August.
City Council must adopt a budget by mid-September.
“We also want to make sure that we're keeping our commitment to Animal Care Services, neighborhood services like Code Enforcement,” said District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana.
The city will have some obstacles to deal with in formulating its newest budget.
Recent cooler temperatures have made for less revenue from CPS Energy.
The city will have to pay more of its employees overtime thanks to new federal requirements.
The budget must account for the city's unresolved contract negotiations with the police and fire unions. The city wants to keep the public safety budget at less than 66 percent of the general fund.
“Because that spending is taking up more and more of the city's budget, it's crowding out spending on libraries, on sidewalks, on street maintenance, on senior services,” Sculley said.
Mayor Ivy Taylor agrees with Sculley.
“It does present some uncertainty in that we would love, of course, to resolve the contractual issue and have a better sense of what we'll be spending,” she said.
The city must also consider what funding it may provide to the Lone Star Rail project after the city earlier this year decided to withhold $500,000 it had committed to the project contingent on Bexar County providing the same amount of money.
The county pulled its funding first after Union Pacific ended its commitment with the Lone Star Rail District.
Meanwhile, VIA Metropolitan Transit says it needs $140 million more each year to be comparable to public transportation in other major Texas cities.
“Even if the decision was made to give VIA these dollars, I don’t think it would get us the VIA system we need, as the city continues to grow each and every day,” Taylor said. “So to me, that's the more pressing question: How do we get to the system that we need?”