SAN ANTONIO – City of San Antonio leaders are preparing a $1.2 billion, five-year bond program to send to voters next spring.
The projects the bond program would include haven’t been decided yet, but housing, streets, and drainage are all poised to take sizable chunks. But despite its record size - 41% larger than the 2017 program - the program is still dwarfed by both the requests the city has already received and its overall infrastructure needs.
The city’s five-year bond programs are generally used to fund large construction and renovation projects, such as repairing failed streets or building new libraries. Because of a voter-approved charter change this year, the scope of what the city is allowed to include for projects expanded to include things like affordable housing.
City Council members discussed some of their high-level priorities on Wednesday for what to include in the next program and in what areas.
City Manager Erik Walsh said after the meeting that his take-away was the council wanted to prioritize streets and drainage, potentially increase spending on public art, and spend $250 million on affordable housing.
The bond program would be broken up into different categories, which voters would have to vote on individually. The six areas that city staff proposed separating projects, included:
- Streets, bridges, sidewalks
- Drainage & flood control
- Parks & Recreation
- Municipal facilities
- Public safety & health facilities
City staff say the project requests for the bond program total $2.8 billion - more than double the capacity for the bond program. They originated from council members, staff, community partners, public agencies, and the public.
The city’s total infrastructure need, not including any housing projects, is even larger - more than five times the bond program’s size at $6.6 billion.
Based on Wednesday’s council discussion, city staff will score the requested projects to include in a bond program proposal on Oct. 13. After, the council-appointed members of community committees will review them.
The city council is expected to approve the final project list in January, and call a bond election in February. Voters would have the final say in the May 7 election.
Staff noted there may be other funding sources for some projects - such as Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds or the money it has received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
After voter’s approval of Proposition A in April, housing initiatives are newly eligible for city bond dollars, and projects maintain or create new affordable housing units could make up more than 20% of the entire bond program.
City staff say they want to preserve or produce 28,094 housing units in the next 10 years, mostly rental units for people earning less than 80% of the area median income. Of that number, 1,000 would be for permanent supportive housing units that could help people coming out of homelessness.
To support that, city staff suggested including $250 million in the bond program, as recommended in the Housing Policy Framework, which also recommended an additional $250 million in a second bond program.
“I want to stress that we need to use this money to help us meet the goals for those that are 50% AMI or below. That’s where we need to use our resources. But I don’t want to not mention that we need all types of housing,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told council members.
One of the top priorities for many residents and council members is fixing streets. There are 457 miles of streets in the city - almost 11% of the city’s network - with an “F” grade, which would take about $915 million to address.
City staff proposed using $100 million in the bond program - an amount District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry considered far too low.
“I just don’t see how we’re ever going to get there and meet the expectations of our neighbors and our neighborhoods without putting more investment towards our streets, which are in a lot of places crappy - I mean, really crappy streets,” Perry said.
The city has $671 million worth of flood mitigation projects as well, though Walsh noted “obviously we can’t do everything in a five-year program.”
Council also discussed whether to increase the portion of the bond that would go towards public art, and if so, by how much. The 2017 bond program included 1% for public art, which former District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño requested last year that the city double for future capital projects.
Though that never got an official vote, staff asked whether council members would like to increase the public art portion of the bond program, providing comparisons to other cities. San Antonio’s 1% was the lowest of the other big Texas cities: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston, which ranged from 1.5 to 2%.
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