If you want to get a grasp of the scale of what Bexar County actually does – and funds – browsing through the 500-page, 2015-2016 fiscal year budget proposal would be a good start.
You’ll find big-ticket items like the new Bexar County Integrated Justice System ($23.6 million), the South Flores Street parking garage addition ($15.2 million), and the Hot Wells Interpretive Center and Public Park ($2.7 million) on the capital improvement program list, as well as smaller line items, including $25,000 for Opera Piccola and $2,500 for Dominion Church of God in Christ‘s Summer Youth Program in operations appropriations.
Taking into account new projects, continuing projects, day-to-day operations, maintenance, and proposed increases to wages, it all adds up to an almost $1.7 billion budget for next year that the Bexar County Commissioners Court will vote on during its Tuesday morning session. After weeks of review and input from the public, precinct stakeholders, and the commissioners themselves, the proposed budget is expected to win unanimous approval.
Revenues, which are calculated and certified by the county auditor, are based on maintaining the current Bexar County property tax rate of $0.3145 per $100 valuation and an increase of property values of 14%, totaling $127.8 billion. Last year, property values rose 7.5%. The jump in property values sparked many community members to call for a reduction in property taxes, but the Commissioners Court, which hasn’t raised property tax rates in 20 years, saw this year as an opportunity to “catch up” on increasing its employees wages and salaries.
“We’ve either held the line of the tax rate or lowered it (since 1994),” said Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2). “This year was the year to catch up with the employee.”
The proposed budget includes bumping living wage workers from $11.66 an hour to $13 an hour, at a cost of $950,000. Contractors that want to do business with the County will be required to pay at least $9.50 per hour. Non-exempt county employees that are entitled to overtime will receive a minimum 3% cost-of-living adjustment, at a cost of $2.5 million, and be eligible for performance pay. Exempt employees will receive a 5% maximum increase based on performance.
Money also has been set aside to compensate for “compression,” which occurs when subordinate employees begin to make an amount that approaches their higher-ranking employees or supervisors.
“The County reduced our effective tax rate last year by 1.6 cents,” said County Manager David Smith, which is a substantial cut. “If you combine the reduction in that tax rate over the years plus the value of the senior citizen tax freeze and the disabled veteran homestead exemption, next year’s taxpayers will save more than $100 million next year.”
While most property owners won’t be seeing a further reduction of their property taxes from the County, the City of San Antonio’s proposed budget has a decrease of three-quarters of a cent for its property tax and “will save San Antonio taxpayers $6.1 million in FY 2016,” according to City officials.
During Monday’s budget session, the County’s budget team presented adjusted revenue projection, also calculated and certified by the County auditor, to the tune of an additional $690,000, which was absorbed by other increases in contributions to outside agencies and the retention/reclassification of staff.
The budget is broken up into five sections (see a breakdown below) and the largest of which, $700 million, will go towards streets/maintenance, flood control and capital projects.
Another unique feature of next year’s budget will be a “pay-as-you-go” approach to capital projects, which will help maintain the County’s AAA bond rating.
“For instance, instead of issuing flood control debt, we’re going to finish the program with cash on hand,” Smith said after the meeting. “The same (goes) for technology purchases and vehicles.”
About $57 million is left on the County’s $500 million flood control initiative that was started 10 years ago. Until this year, the new flood control projects were financed with debt, Smith said. The County has coordinated flood control efforts with the City of San Antonio.
“The whole point (of the 10-year flood plan) was to have a regional program because problems can start at the county line – doesn’t mean it ends there.”
Another intersection of County and City budgets and planning occurs on road projects. One of the biggest future issues Smith sees is keeping up with street creation and maintenance needs of sprawling communities outside City limits.
“The growth in the unincorporated area is tremendous,” he said. “We just don’t have a funding source that can keep up with it.”
Learn more about the local annexation debate here.
The Commissioner’s Court will vote on the proposed budget on Tuesday morning during its meeting that starts at 10:30 a.m. in the Double-Height Courtroom of the Bexar County Courthouse, 100 Dolorosa St.
*Featured/top image: Bexar County Department of Management and Finance Director Seth McCabe (foreground) presents budget adjustments to the Bexar County commissioners (from left) Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1), Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2), County Judge Nelson Wolff, Kevin Wolff ( Pct. 3) and Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4). Photo by Iris Dimmick.