Mayor says aquifer protection, mass transit not an ‘either/or’ choice

Nirenberg says no SAWS rate increase if aquifer protection program is switched; SAWS executives say differently

San Antonio – Mayor Ron Nirenberg is pushing back at critics as he tries to push forward with a plan to help fund mass transit.

“I’ve seen a narrative develop that suggests that we have to choose between water and transportation,” Nirenberg said in a recent interview with KSAT. “And it’s not an either/or choice. When we work together, when we use our resources collectively as a community, we can do all of these things. And the alternative, the unacceptable alternative, is that we do nothing at all.”

A 1/8 cent sales tax that goes toward funding Linear Creek Parkways and the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program expires in 2021. Rather than having voters renew the tax, Nirenberg wants it to be used to send roughly $36 million to VIA Metropolitan Transit.

A VIA spokeswoman said the money would be used to “support the operations of VIA Reimagined – the agency’s 10-year plan for increased bus frequency, advanced rapid transit and smart transit.”

The sales tax switch hasn’t come without push back from people concerned about the fate of the EAPP, including a suggestion from Texas Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, to use the tax money that currently funds Pre-K 4 SA, instead.

Nirenberg, though, is quick to point out that the program wouldn't disappear. He hopes the SAWS Board of Trustees will agree to take over the program and its funding.

That would likely cut how much money would be available for it, though. Under an option laid out by SAWS executives at a Jan. 14 board meeting, the utility would have about $52 million over five years instead of the $100 million approved by voters during the last go-around at the ballot box.

The plan presented to trustees would require a reduction in how much money the utility gives the city. The utility could then use the savings to pay to continue the EAPP.

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