The City of San Antonio will furlough 270 people who work at some City-owned facilities and departments impacted by a loss of tax revenues, City Manager Erik Walsh said Wednesday.
Those tax revenues also funded various arts agencies. Payments on those contracts will be suspended after April and likely for the rest of the year, Arts and Culture Director Debbie Racca-Sittre said in an email to agency partners.
Effective April 23, the furlough includes employees from several departments, including 11 in Arts and Culture, seven in Finance, one in the Office of Risk Management, and three in the Office of International Relations. But the bulk of the employees work at the Henry B. González Convention Center and sports facilities, including more than 50 professionals, managers, and executives.
The furlough represents just over 2 percent of the roughly 12,500-member City workforce.
The furloughs are the result of potentially losing an estimated $53.4 million to $83 million in revenues this year from the airport, the hotel occupancy tax (HOT), and the convention center and Alamodome. Only a minimum number of the convention center and Alamodome staff will be kept on the payroll for basic maintenance and security.
“This is not a layoff, this is furlough,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during a live-streamed daily update on the status of COVID-19. The goal is to “keep the organization whole” until HOT revenues are restored or other local, state, or federal funding mechanisms are found.
That concept applies to arts and culture funding, too, Nirenberg said. “Arts and culture are such a vital and critical part of this community. We want to protect them as well.”
The furloughed employees will receive their regular pay for April 9 to 22, and their health care coverage will continue after the furlough begins. City officials will file for unemployment benefits on behalf of the furloughed employees.
“These employees are valued members of our team, but with little to no events scheduled for several months, the revenue shortfalls are so significant that we have to take steps now to put us in a position to ramp up operations again when the public health crisis subsides,” Walsh said. “I want these employees to know that they are still part of the City of San Antonio family, and we are doing what we can to support them and their families during this difficult time.”
In addition to arts agency funding – which will impact the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, San Antonio Symphony, San Antonio Ballet, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and dozens more – all cultural planning efforts, cultural district grants, film festival grants, film contests, and other cultural art-related grants are suspended, Racca-Sittre said in her email.
“City galleries will remain closed and all programming at Centro de Artes is suspended,” she wrote. “This letter supersedes any prior conversations or correspondence from the Department of Arts & Culture regarding these Fiscal Year 2020 programs and contracts.”
Arts agencies were slated to receive two more payments this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, in July and September.
“[That’s a] 20 percent reduction across the board for the rest of the fiscal year. That way the burden is shared and it doesn’t just hit certain agencies,” Nirenberg said.
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Furloughed San Antonio City employees join a rapidly expanding number of workers being let go as travel is restricted and businesses close in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. Last week, a record 6.6 million people across many job sectors in the nation filed for unemployment benefits.
Last Thursday, the City suspended more than $82 million worth of street maintenance, economic development incentives, hiring, and other programs for this year.
Preliminary estimates for March show local unemployment could rise to 12 percent to 14 percent as businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, shut down or reduce operations to comply with the Stay Home, Work Safe order.