San Antonio – Rebates for CPS Energy customers, a property tax rate cut, and pay bumps for city employees are all part of the proposed $3.4 billion city budget the San Antonio City Council discussed Thursday morning.
City Manager Erik Walsh and other top city staff presented the council with their recommendations, which will serve as the rough draft of the budget council is expected to pass in mid-September. Their budget proposal also includes investments in capital projects at the airport, convention center, Alamodome, and numerous voter-approved bond projects.
The proposed budget is roughly 10.9 percent larger than the $3.1 billion FY 2022 adopted budget, and is broken out into three parts:
- $1.51B - GENERAL FUND - Increase of roughly $150 million
- $641M - CAPITAL BUDGET - Increase of roughly $49 million
- $1.25B - RESTRICTED FUNDS - Increase of roughly $140 million
The FY 2023 budget proposal includes $156.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act, and city staff are expecting increased revenue from property tax, sales tax, CPS Energy, and other sources than was in the adopted FY 2022 budget.
“The budget increases, in large part, because San Antonio continues to grow, and we have more services that are required to -- and infrastructure to keep up with that growth,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, also noting that the one-time use ARPA funds are “baked into that budget.”
CPS ENERGY REBATES
Plans on using a current windfall from CPS Energy took center stage Thursday. As temperatures and energy bills soar, the utility is projected to bring in $75 million more than expected for the current fiscal year, which ends Sep. 30.
City staff are recommending about $25 million of that surplus be divvied up between the city’s aquifer protection program, closing gaps in the sidewalk system, and buying or building a warehouse to store emergency supplies.
But the lion’s share -- $50 million -- would go back to customers.
City officials recommend putting $5 million of the surplus toward the utility’s assistance program for low-income customers, and $45 million to be divided between all CPS Energy customers.
The $45 million would be distributed in the form of a credit in customers’ October bills and be based on their energy usage in July. The city estimates the average residential customer with a $230 bill would get a $31 credit.
“This is not going to wipe away anybody’s outstanding balances. It’s not going to pay anybody’s complete utility bill. It is the city, as the owner of CPS, recognizing the extraordinary position that everybody finds themselves in and doing our part,” said Walsh.
Council members would have to vote on that proposal before September, ahead of the rest of the budget, in order for the money to make it into October bills.
However, several members had their own suggestions to use the money, whether for domestic violence services, more infrastructure spending, or preparing for future extreme weather.
District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo sent a memo to Walsh and his colleagues ahead of the budget requesting the $50 million currently earmarked for customers be used for converting buildings into community resiliency centers, upgrading homes’ weatherization and energy efficiency, and reducing the urban heat island effect in the city.
“My worry today is that if we don’t learn from this summer that this is the new normal, then when will we ever learn?” Bravo said Thursday.
The surplus will be the subject of the council’s first work session on Aug. 16.
EMPLOYEE PAY BUMPS
The city currently has a 9.6% vacancy rate in its positions compared to 7.6% or 7.7% before the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, when the city had a hiring freeze, it got up to 15%.
Officials said they conducted a market analysis of all civilian jobs in the city and a survey of city employees. As a result, staff is proposing a 5% wage bump across the board, plus an additional 2% to 7% market rate increase, depending on the job.
Out of the city’s approximately 7,000 civilian employees, Walsh said 244 would get more than a 7% market adjustment because the city’s pay was so far off for positions like plumbers, electricians, nurses, and public health outreach workers.
The minimum city wage for all employees, part-time, full-time, and seasonal would also be raised to $17.50 an hour.
“I have a son that works for the largest grocery store in town, picking up carts and bagging groceries. And he’s making more over there than a lot of employees who work in the city at that level,” Walsh said. “So we need the right size because we’re in competition with everybody.”
PROPERTY TAX CUT
Despite the additional costs, property owners will still get tax relief.
To stay below a state-imposed revenue cap, the city also plans to lower the property tax rate by 1.67 cents per $100 of value. The tax rate cut is on top of the increased homestead exemption and other tax breaks for homeowners the city council passed in June.
It’s the eighth property tax rate reduction in 30 years, according to city staff.
“I’m happy what we’ve done to date, but I’m going to keep pushing this until we max out our ability or our authorization to offer tax reductions to our citizens,” said District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry.
The combined public safety budgets of fire and police would be 60.7% of the general fund, well below the city’s typical guideline of 66%.
Although Walsh said the San Antonio Police Department budget -- the largest of all city departments -- is growing, the general fund at large is growing at a faster pace.
Police officer and firefighter wages are determined by their union contracts and are not part of the city’s plans to increase pay for civilian employees.
The budget proposal includes 78 new police officer positions, 50 of which are contingent upon federal grant funding and would be used to address high crime areas. Another 28 positions are for supervisory roles at the North St. Mary’s Street substation, scheduled to open in early 2024.
The fire department would have 21 new uniform positions, split between a new ladder truck at Fire Station 45 on the far West Side and a new medical first responder unit at Fire Station 24 on Austin Highway.
- $116M for streets, $21M for sidewalks, and $1M for bike facilities
- $19.6M in new parks and recreation improvements
- $136M for affordable housing to create 2,500 new housing units
- $160M of spending out of the city’s record $1.2 billion bond
- $35.3M for improvements at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Alamodome
- $3.2M for renovations and improvements at eight libraries
- 30 new positions in the airport and support departments ahead of the Terminal Redevelopment Program
- $1.2M for ACS Emergency Overflow and transport kennels
- $1.3M in new funding for homeless outreach and hotline
- $1.2M in new funding for six months of the lease and operations of the homeless hotel
- No fee increase for solid waste service, though one is expected in FY 2024
The city is planning a series of special council work sessions between Aug. 16 and Sep. 14, before voting on Sep. 15. The city’s full budget calendar can be found HERE.
It will also be soliciting community input in a series of community meetings available in English, Spanish, and ASL. The schedule is below:
- Monday, August 15, 7 p.m. - The Tool Yard, 10303 Toolyard (District 10 – Councilman Clayton Perry)
- Tuesday, August 16, 6:30 p.m. - San Antonio Food Bank, 5200 Enrique M Barrera Pkwy (District 6 – Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda)
- Wednesday, August 17, 6:30 p.m. - John Igo Library, 13330 Kyle Seale Pkwy (District 8 – Councilman Manny Pelaez)
- Thursday, August 18, 6:30 p.m. - Citywide Telephone Town Hall, Virtual
- Monday, August 22, 6:30 p.m. - Citywide Telephone Town Hall, Virtual
- Tuesday, August 23, 6:30 p.m. - Southside Lions Senior Center, 3303 Pecan Valley Dr (District 3 - Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran)
- Wednesday, August 24, 6:30 p.m. - San Antonio College Victory Center, 1819 N Main Ave (District 1 – Councilman Mario Bravo)
- Wednesday, August 25, 6:30 p.m. - Walker Ranch Senior Center, 835 W. Rhapsody (District 9 - Councilman John Courage)
- Saturday, August 27, 10 a.m. - Traders Village 9333 SW Loop 410 (District 4 - Councilwoman Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia) Evento en español
- Monday, August 29, 6:30 p.m. - Second Baptist Church Community Center, 3310 E Commerce St (District 2 – Councilman Jalen McKee - Rodriguez)
- Tuesday, August 30, 6:30 p.m. -Normoyle Senior Center, 700 Culberson Ave (District 5 – Councilwoman Teri Castillo)
- Thursday, September 1, 6:30 p.m. - Doris Griffin Senior Center, 6157 Northwest Loop 410 #410 (District 7 – Councilwoman Ana Sandoval)
Residents can watch the town hall meetings live on the web by visiting www.sanantonio.gov/tvsa or on the City’s Facebook page. Residents can also watch on television channels: AT&T 99, Grande 20, Spectrum 21, and digital antenna 16.1, or listen live by dialing 210-207-5555 and selecting option 1 for English or option 2 for Spanish.
In addition, residents are invited to submit their budget questions in advance by calling 311, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by using #SASpeakUp23 on social media.