SAN ANTONO – The San Antonio City Council passed its largest-ever budget Thursday afternoon with the help of federal dollars and rosier revenue projections.
The $3.1 billion FY 2022 budget includes the restoration of many budget cuts forced by the pandemic, additional investment in public health, funding to help with affordable housing, and changes to how police and other city departments will handle some calls for service.
“It’s a big budget, but this is a big city,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told media after the vote. “And I think the council and the community and the staff have been doing a really good job on intensive work to find the proper balance to deliver services that our community expects and also continue to accommodate the growth that we’ve seen.”
Though it passed largely in the same form as city staff proposed it last month, council members spent several debating other possible, last-minute changes.
District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo abstained from the various votes in related to the budget as a form of protest against the process, which he said “favors a business-as-usual budget.” District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry voted against portions related to the city’s property tax after his attempt to lower the tax rate failed.
The budget consists of a $1.36 billion general fund, which includes most of the city’s day-to-day operations; $1.12 billion worth of restricted funds, like the airport fund and development services; and a $592.2 million capital fund.
Highlights of the approved budget, include:
- The restoration of street maintenance funding to $110 million
- $20.8 million for sidewalks
- $16.3 million more for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District
- $35.8 million for affordable housing, including an extra bump to the Under One Roof program and a new demolition diversion program
- $5.2 for Vision Zero pedestrian safety improvements
- $2.7 million for an update to the Bicycle Master Plan
- $1 million for each capital projects in each council district
One of the most highly-scrutinized changes to the budget, though, is a change to how the city handles some calls for service.
Instead of only a police response, other city departments will now be involved in some fireworks calls, loud music, and animal-related calls. The budget also includes funding for a pilot program to use a team-approach for responding to mental health calls.
Because of lower-than-expected CPS Energy revenues ending the current budget year, the city council agreed to cut $1.9 million in economic incentives from FY 2022 in order to balance the budget.
Other amendments they agreed to Wednesday night and passed today, included extra money for the Under One Roof program, making Mar. 31 a city holiday to honor Cesar Chavez, funding childcare stipends for board and commission members, technology services for seniors, and funding two crime prevention programs.
While city council members agreed to a handful of budget amendments Wednesday night
District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry first tried to cut the city’s contribution to VIA Metropolitan Transit by $5.7 million. The move was in preparation of proposing a 1/2 cent cut to the city property tax rate, which would save the average homeowner $10.87 on their annual bill.
However, the rest of the council nixed the plan, with some pointing to VIA’s deficit in sales tax revenue compared to other major Texas cities as a reason not to cut.
Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez tried the same tactic in order to reduce SAPD’s $501.3 million general fund budget - also unsuccessfully. Though he also tied his proposed cut to a corresponding tax cut, the District 2 councilman’s goal was to restrain the department’s budget.
Due to a new state law meant to combat the “de-funding” of police, it will be difficult for the city to do anything but grow or maintain the SAPD budget in the future.
“We are not talking about de-funding. We are not talking about decreasing from previous years. We are talking about increasing by a slightly less amount than we were going to increase by,” McKee-Rodriguez said.
District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo also attempted to make multiple budget amendments from the dais. While some were delayed for future discussion, others were shot down, including a plan to dip into the city’s reserves for $2.5 million to increase funding for bonding assistance to contractors.
As a result, the freshman councilman abstained from voting on the budget
“I feel like the process favors a business-as-usual budget, and that’s what we got. I hope that the rest that you all will work with me on a better process going forward,” Bravo said.
It won’t be the council’s only chance to way in on large amounts of spending this year. The city still has to determine how to use $229.4 million of the money it received through the American Rescue Plan Act, and a new five-year bond program is expected to go up for a citywide vote in the spring of 2022.