San Antonio City Council floats big ideas for American Rescue Plan funds

$327M in direct assistance for the city must be obligated by December 2024, projects done by December 2026

According to city officials, about $327 million is going to be used for the city's recovery efforts.

SAN ANTONIO – From developing a coordinated system for addressing homelessness to updating city-owned facilities, San Antonio City Council members had numerous ideas Wednesday for how to use the hundreds of millions of dollars the city will receive through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The $1.9 trillion ARPA is expected to send $465.5 million to the City of San Antonio. The majority of it, $327 million, is earmarked for the city’s financial recovery.

That pot of money can be put towards various uses, not only replacing lost revenue but also paying extra money to critical workers or improving mental and substance programs.

“I think we can agree this is an incredible and unique opportunity for us not only to address immediate needs. Those have been made abundantly clear -- but also to use this opportunity as a catalyst for similar transformation and changes that we know need to occur in light of the pandemic, or as highlighted by the pandemic,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

City staff presented council members with an overview of the incoming ARPA funds and the requirements specific to the fiscal recovery dollars. For example, the dollars must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

The guidelines aren’t final, though, and the city has until mid-July to provide feedback comments to the federal government.

City Manager Erik Walsh said the city planned to use the money in two phases. As they focus on the next budget cycle, the first phase will revolve around the financial stability of the city, recovering lost revenue, and addressing any immediate needs.

The second phase will focus on using the money over several years, and council members had numerous opinions on how it could be put to use.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales suggested upgrading city-owned facilities. District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino wanted to help develop a framework for a coordinated system dealing with the homeless. District 9 Councilman John Courage and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry were interested in how to make up for deferred street maintenance.

Walsh said Wednesday was just the first opportunity for the council to discuss the funds.

“I anticipate there being a much more robust program and opportunities for council to discuss -- and potentially even partnership with the county -- as we go into next year,” Walsh said. “Remember, we have -- this is very different than last year. We’ll have until 2026 to spend these funds. And so what I’ve -- what I’m recommending to the council is that our financial plan be built over that 3- to 5-year period. We’re going to need to continue to monitor it. But I mean, you heard today there are a lot of things that are potential.”

City staff plan to present a “trial budget” to council members on June 16.


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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.