SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio’s proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year was presented to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the city council Thursday with a focus on five key points that include the city’s financial recovery, restoration, lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, response to calls and resiliency.
City Manager Erik Walsh presented the budget, which is projected at a record $3.1 billion. It is the first time in San Antonio’s history the budget has exceeded the $3 billion mark. The council is scheduled to adopt the budget on Sept. 16.
While there has been uncertainty over the rise of COVID-19 cases in San Antonio, Walsh said financial forecasts in late spring and the target budget showed revenues and financial aspects started to improve through the summer.
The general fund for the proposed budget is set at $1.36 billion. Restricted Funds, including Airport, Development Services, and Solid Waste total $1.12 billion; and the FY 2022 Capital Budget is $592.2 million.
Walsh said the city is using $97.5 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Those funds will be spread over multiple years and come from a pot of $326 million in ARPA funds earmarked for the city’s financial recovery.
That money can be put towards various uses, not only replacing lost revenue but also paying extra money to critical workers or improving mental health and substance abuse programs. The dollars must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
Walsh said $46 million of that $97.5 million is going to the general fund and the balance is going to the hotel occupancy tax with the dollars being spread out over the next two years. The $97.5 million figure comes from the city’s audited losses from 2020, Walsh said.
Thursday’s proposal showed that the city’s sales tax revenue for the 2022 fiscal year is 11% higher than in 2019. The city used 2019 as a comparison instead of 2021 because of the pandemic. Walsh said the demand for leisure travel to San Antonio over the summer after COVID-19 cases dropped helped those figures.
However, San Antonio’s hotel industry continues to feel the impact of the pandemic. The Hotel Occupancy Tax for the 2022 fiscal year is projected to be 24% lower compared to 2019. Walsh said they are monitoring how this recent surge in cases will affect the hotel tax this fall and the city anticipated it would take longer for this industry to recover.
Revenue for San Antonio International Airport remained steady with an uptick in air travel over the spring and summer. Airport revenue is only off 2% compared to 2019. With these figures reflecting financial recovery, here are the other four points Walsh presented to the council as part of the 2022 fiscal year budget.
City restoring cuts made over last two years
Walsh said the second key message from the proposal is restoring cuts made over the last two years, thanks to ARPA funds and the general fund’s revenue growth.
Street maintenance will be fully restored at $110 million, as will housing and economic development incentive programs.
The budget calls for the restoration of pay for civilians, which has been flat since 2019. The proposed budget for civilian employees includes a 5% increase in pay across the board, divided into two areas. A total of 4% of that wage increase will be recurring and permanent while 1% will be in the form of a lump sum check.
The city also plans to raise wages by 4% for entry-level positions. The city’s minimum starting salary will increase from $15 to $15.60 an hour. A 10% decrease in health premiums for civilian employees, carried over from last year, will remain in place.
Firefighters are scheduled to get a 3% pay increase in January as part of an arbitrated settlement with the department, while a potential increase with police officers remains under negotiations, Walsh said.
One of the biggest areas of investment will be in infrastructure. Walsh said in addition to $16 million more in street maintenance, the city is increasing its investment in the annual sidewalk program. The city has set aside $21 million dollars in the proposal to repair sidewalks and create 62 miles of sidewalk network into the existing system.
Another area of investment is in Vision Zero infrastructure improvements. Vision Zero is San Antonio’s plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and enhance the safety of the city’s transportation system.
The city will put $6.2 million in the proposed budget for improvements at areas and intersections with a history of accidents, injuries and fatal incidents. The proposed budget also includes $5.8 million in new streetlights, the largest amount the city has ever put forth for streetlights.
Lessons learned through the pandemic
The third message from the 2022 budget proposal is lessons learned over the last 18 months through the pandemic. This primarily entails public health and investment in the strategic growth plan.
The city will take a coordinated approach on mental health, access to care, health justice, technology, infrastructure and the community health worker program.
The city will focus on certain parts of the community that need additional access to information and programing, incorporating aspects of health justice that started as a result of the city council declaring racism a public health emergency, Walsh said.
A pilot program with the GoodSAM app will be included in the budget. The application provides the ability for those calling emergency services to instantly share their location and live video from their mobile device.
Walsh said this will keep EMS from responding to minor emergency calls. The city is also going to add clinical dispatchers at the fire department to have a more immediate way to provide emergency care.
The general fund commitment to affordable housing programs is increasing from $9.5 million to $14.5 million for a total of roughly $33 million in affordable housing programs. The Emergency Housing Assistance Program is funded through the end of the calendar year.
Walsh said a small group of employees will be created to help navigate citizens through housing programs, homeless prevention programs, social services or financial counseling for seniors. The budget proposal also includes improving language access programs and barriers throughout the community.
Responding to calls differently
The fourth key message of the budget proposal is responding to calls differently. The city will recommend a different approach to address mental health calls, domestic violence calls and calls related to individuals that may be homeless or may have substance abuse issues.
A recommendation presented to the city by Meadow’s Mental Policy Institute was to have a multi-disciplinary team that includes a paramedic, a mental health clinician and a police officer that will address mental health goals.
The city also wants to implement a pilot program using a multi-disciplinary team to serve the area near the Central Police Substation. Deputy City Manager Maria Villagómez said the team would ride together and intervene at the time of the call. A police officer would secure the scene and other team members would then assist with the call.
For domestic violence calls, the city wants to strengthen the response from the police department. That includes augmenting the violence prevention division at Metro Health and providing a different approach to how victims, their family and the perpetrator are assessed. Villagómez said these new initiatives will also assess some of the homeless population as well.
The proposed budget also recommends changes to certain calls police officers respond to.
911 calls related to barking dogs or other minor animal-related issues will be transferred to Animal Care Services. The city is adding resources for ACS to be able to handle those calls, especially at night.
Calls for fireworks will be transferred to the fire department or arson division.
Officers who respond to calls for found property will take the property to a centralized location or storage facility at police substations where someone else will pick up the item.
Villagómez said the city is also responding to the community’s desire for police officers to develop stronger relationships with citizens. The proposal recommends the addition of 12 police officers for the SAFFE unit and three additional officers for downtown bike patrol for a total of 15 new officers in the budget.
Resiliency amid emergencies after the winter storm
Walsh said the fifth key message for the budget is centered around resiliency. The city is prioritizing infrastructure at critical facilities, including the addition of generators at police substations and fire stations.
This was primarily a result of the February winter storm which left nearly the entire city without electricity or access to resources. This includes having dedicated warming and cooling centers in strategically placed areas for severe weather or emergencies. These facilities could be a school, library or city building.
The proposed budget sets aside $7.25 million for these infrastructure improvements.
(You can see the full presentation to the city council below.)