City council considers final changes to $3.1 billion budget

City staff looking for $510k more in cuts to help pay for additional amendments requested by council

New San Antonio City Council members sworn in

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio City Council members considered the final few changes to the city’s largest-ever budget Wednesday afternoon on the eve of its passage.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the $3.1 billion budget Thursday morning, which includes the restoration of pandemic budget cuts, pay raises for employees, and funding for some new approaches to police responses. But while council members submitted dozens of possible amendments, totaling $57.6 million, city staff recommended only taking up a handful -- specifically those with no cost attached or those that could be funded with Tax Increment Refinancing Zone (TIRZ) money.

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Those amendments included the following: creating a city holiday on Mar. 31 to recognize Cesar Chavez, a pilot program to better use city-owned green space, funding violence prevention programs, $2 million more for the Under One Roof program, and $1 million for demolition diversion.

City Manager Erik Walsh said many of the other amendments council members submitted could be considered again when council decides how to use the $229.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars the city still has available. The city already plans to use $97.5 million of ARPA dollars to make up lost revenue.

But council members also indicated they wanted to pursue amendments like $500,000 for technology services for seniors, $250,000 for an after-school program, and $10,000 to provide board and commission members a child care stipend.

Walsh said the after-school program could also be funded through TIRZ dollars, while staff would find places in the budget to cut $510,000 to pay for the seniors’ technology services and the the child care stipends.

Staff had also offered the possibility of dipping into a contingency fund for $4 million worth of capital projects. Council members turned it down, though, after District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, who had requested most of the work, volunteered to take his projects off the table, noting the money could be needed to cope with rising construction costs.

With CPS Energy revenues falling short of expectations in the final few months of the current fiscal year, the city will be entering the new budget year with a $2 million deficit. City staff have recommended making up the shortfall by either maintaining or only partially restoring pandemic cuts to some economic development incentives in the FY 22 budget.

Council members will have the final say on all of these possibilities when they vote on Thursday. And there could be other proposals beyond what city staff had said they would prepare.

Perry indicated he planned to ask for a reduction in the city’s property tax rate, though he did not say by how much. A presentation to council members last month, though, showed the effects of cutting the proposed $0.55827 per $100 valuation tax rate by various amounts.

A 1/4 cent reduction would lower the average homeowner’s tax bill by $5.43, while a 1 cent decrease would save them $21.73.

An Aug. 24 presentation by the finance department shows how varying levels of property tax cuts would affect homeowners' tax bills (City of San Antonio)

Such a move seems unlikely to succeed, though, given Perry and District 9 Councilman John Courage already unsuccessfully lobbied for property tax relief earlier in the budget cycle in the form of a larger homestead exemption.

City Attorney Andy Segovia also told Perry that changing the tax rate would first require identifying what area of the budget he would want to cut to allow for the drop in tax revenue.

Meanwhile, District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez told KSAT he plans to offer an amendment for a smaller increase to the San Antonio Police Department budget than what has been proposed.

A new state law makes it difficult for cities to lower their police budgets. So McKee-Rodriguez believes “we need on record” a vote to only increase the budget enough to cover the contractually-obligated pay raises for officers, the pay raises proposed for civilian employees, and increased healthcare costs.

The current SAPD budget proposal is $501.3 million from the general fund, a 3% increase over the FY 2021 budget of $486.5 million.

Speaking to his fellow council members, the former math teacher used a presentation written on a white board to show that the FY 2032 general fund budget for SAPD would be up to $673.7 million if it continued to increase by 3% year-over-year.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.