SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio is expected to grow its budget to a whopping $3.73 billion this year as it pumps up its Animal Care Service budget, adds the most police officers in any year this side of the millennium, and funds hundreds more of homeless camp cleanups.
A long-expected hike in city solid waste fees is also part of the proposed budget, though the city also expects to slightly lower its property tax rate. City council members previously increased an existing tax break for homeowners.
The 9% increase over the current $3.4 billion budget was largely driven by “capital and construction-type elements,” says City Manager Erik Walsh.
The budget is split into three sections:
- GENERAL FUND: $1.59 billion, 5% more than FY 2023
- Considered the city’s checkbook, this is how the city pays for most core services, like police, fire, parks, and libraries.
- RESTRICTED FUNDS: $1.33 billion, 6% more than FY 2023
- This covers areas that rely on dedicated taxes or fees, like solid waste, the hotel occupancy tax (HOT), and the airport fund.
- CAPITAL PROGRAM: $798 million, 22% more than FY 2023
- How the city pays for new roads, buildings, and other capital projects, including the 2017 bond, 2022 bond, and airport projects.
The city’s fiscal year runs from October through September. City council members are expected to pass a final version of the budget on Sep. 14.
POLICE & FIRE
The San Antonio Police Department’s budget is again one of the city’s biggest expenses at $570.6 million before any grants or capital projects. That’s a 7.8% increase over the budget council adopted last year.
The city currently has 2,588 authorized SAPD positions, including seven new spots the council added this spring for expanding a multi-disciplinary mental health program, SA Core. The council is expected to consider authorizing another five grant-funded positions later in August.
The proposed budget would ratchet up the number of authorized positions by another 105 officers, for a total of 2,698.
Walsh said the city has “never added, that we can find, in any recent history” that many positions in one swoop. A review of city budget documents dating back to FY 2000 shows the next highest year-to-year increase was between the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years with 100 more positions.
Out of the proposed spots, 100 would be for patrol positions as the city looks to add 360 more officers on the streets in the next five years.
The need for police is a common refrain among city council members, who say it’s what their constituents want.
“And what we keep hearing over and over and over again is just the loud roar of anxiety, and San Antonians just don’t feel safe,” said District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who said the people in his Northwest Side district want to see quicker response times and more neighborhood patrols.
District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia and District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo both said they’d like to see some of the proposed positions used for mental health responses instead. And District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez said he didn’t like the plan to add patrol officers using an “unfinished study.”
The East Side councilman also chimed back in after Pelaez’s comments on policing.
“I just want to be for real that patrols are not stopping the shootings. They aren’t stopping the murders. They aren’t reducing instances of domestic violence or sexual assault. They aren’t reducing the number of weapons on the streets. Patrols aren’t reducing crime. And a cute little outdoor fitness center does none of the above,” McKee-Rodriguez said, also criticizing the proposed use of $1.1 million for a new outdoor training area at the SAPD Training Academy.
The other five officer positions in the budget proposal would be instructor positions at the SAPD Training Academy, where the city hopes to ramp up the number of graduates from an average of 159 per year to 235 to keep up with retirements and with the new positions they plan to add.
Although city officials hope to get a federal grant to partially fund 50 of the positions, Walsh said the city is setting aside enough money to fund all of the positions out of the general fund.
The city budget also includes 32 new firefighter and paramedic positions. The proposal also adds hours during peak EMS times to increase coverage on the Southwest Side after the closure of Texas Vista Medical Center.
ANIMAL CARE SERVICES
ACS attracted plenty of public scrutiny after the deadly dog mauling of an elderly man on the West Side in February, though its director believes council members’ willingness to shell out more money for the agency isn’t directly linked.
The proposed $26.9 million budget would be a 26% bump to the department’s budget compared to original FY 2023 budget, which the council also boosted partway through the year.
Highlights include adding seven ACS officers to respond to all of the 3,500 bite reports they receive and follow up on compliance issues for dangerous dogs.
The city also gets 50,000 critical 311 calls for ACS issues such as cruelty, neglect, and aggressive dogs, but Walsh says the city only has the staff to respond to about 44% of them.
“It’s the only city service that you call for where you may not get a response, and it’s unacceptable,” Walsh said.
The budget proposal includes another eight ACS officer positions to respond to those calls and boost the response rate to 64%. Staff have a three-year plan to continue adding officers to get to a 100% response rate.
The budget proposal also includes money for an additional veterinarian team to check out animals that are brought in, more staff to increase adoptions, and raising the fee the city pays rescue agencies from $84 to $200 per dog they pull out. Between those efforts, Walsh said the city expects it can get another 3,000 animals out of the facility.
There’s also money for 44,000 spay and neuter surgeries through the clinics at Brackenridge Park or Brooks. The city expects to hit just 24,000 spayed and neutered pets this year.
Homeless outreach and tackling encampments were a top priority for residents who answered the city’s budget survey.
Walsh says the city now has more places to house people, and the city is looking to open another low-barrier shelter. And for the first time, it’s setting a goal of getting 400 people off the street.
It’s also adding an additional $200,000 for rental and utility assistance to help prevent more people from losing their homes.
On the other hand, the proposed budget has $500,000 for cleaning up homeless camps.
The city is scheduled to do 500 homeless camp cleanups in the current budget year. The extra money would allow them to pay contractors to help them get to 700 cleanups.
Walsh said the city would commit to performing an assessment of a reported camp, doing outreach to the people there, and cleaning it up within two weeks of being called about it. The cleanup schedule will be publicly available, he said.
Though she was supportive of the cleanups, District 7 Councilwoman Marina Gavito said they aren’t a cure to the homelessness issue.
“It’s marbles in a box. We’re literally shifting these encampments from one district to another,” she said while asking for more homeless outreach coordinators to help with the city’s abatement team.
A long-expected hike in the solid waste fees will be part of the proposed budget and would range from $1.26 to $4.75, depending on what size trash can one uses.
The city says the costs for hauling solid waste have continued to climb faster than the fees it hauls in for the service. With council members against reducing pickups or other services, city staff say that leaves a rate hike as the solution.
When combined with two environmental fees for solid waste and parks, customers currently pay $18, $22, or $30 per month as part of their CPS Energy bills.
City staff propose increasing the solid waste environmental fee, which funds citywide services like illegal dumping pickup and household hazardous waste dump sites, by $1.26 to $3 a month.
While everyone pays the environmental fees, whether they live in a home or an apartment, the city also plans to increase the cost to customers that have medium or large trash cans. Their solid waste fees would increase another $1 and $3.49 respectively, while fees for the smallest carts stay the same.
The end result would be trash customers paying $19.26, $24.26, or $34.75, though Walsh said the city would still have lower rates and better service than other Texas cities like Dallas and Austin.
The city plans to “slightly” lower its property tax rate from 54.161 cents per $100 of valuation to 54.159 cents.
The city’s rate is just one of several that are combined onto Bexar County property tax bills. And even if the rate goes down, a property owner might still end up paying more because of higher property values.
The exception will be for homeowners with a homestead exemption, who should see a lower tax bill -- at least for what they pay the City of San Antonio. The city council already doubled the homestead exemption, which reduces how much of a home’s value can be taxed, from 10% to 20%.
That increased tax break would be enough to offset even the maximum 10% increase in a home’s assessed value.
The city also proposed rolling out a pilot program that would allow 300 seniors to get up to $400 in property tax relief in exchange for volunteer hours.
- $116 million for 1,458 street maintenance projects
- $21.5 million to repair 16 miles of sidewalks and create 29 new miles
- $500,000 for new program to grade city sidewalks for future prioritization
- $1.3 million to fix up city’s worst non-service alleys
- 3-year plan to add shades to 61 playgrounds
- Enhanced library cards to be available at 29 library branches
- $500,000 more for buying library materials
- 3 additional 311 staff to follow up with residents calling multiple times about the same issue
The full budget proposal is available on the city’s website, as is information on various budget hearings.
City staff will host a series of town hall meetings on the following dates:
- Monday, August 14, 6:30 p.m. - Mission Branch Library – 3134 Roosevelt Ave, 78214
- Monday, August 14, 6:30 p.m. - Alicia Treviño Lopez Senior Center – 8353 Culebra Rd., 78251
- Tuesday, August 15, 6:30 p.m. - Northeast Senior Center – 4135 Thousand Oaks Dr., 78217
- Wednesday, August 16, 6:30 p.m. - San Antonio College Candler Gym – 1819 N Main Ave, 78212
- Wednesday, August 16, 6:30 p.m. - Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center – 8400 NW Military Hwy, 78231
- Thursday, August 17, 6:30 p.m. - Doris Griffin Senior Center – 6157 Northwest Loop 410, #410, 78238
- Saturday, August 19, 10 a.m. -Miller’s Pond Community Center – 6175 Old Pearsall Rd., 78242
- Tuesday, August 22, 6:30 p.m. - Normoyle Community Center – 700 Culberson Ave., 78225
- Thursday, August 24, 6:30 p.m. - Second Baptist Church Community Center (Gym) - 3310 E. Commerce St., 78220
There will also be two public hearings on the budget and tax rate. You can sign up to speak at SASpeakUp.com:
- Wednesday, August 30, 5 p.m. - San Antonio City Council Chambers, 114 W. Commerce Street
- Thursday, September 7, 9 a.m. - San Antonio City Council Chambers, 114 W. Commerce Street