In the 2022 fiscal year, Bexar County residents can expect an unchanged property tax rate and a budget about $1 billion larger than that of the previous year.
Bexar County commissioners heard the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget of about $2.8 billion at their Tuesday meeting. Some of that money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA); county staff put $389 million, or the entire amount it expects to receive from the federal government, into the 2022 budget.
Though he highly doubts that the entirety of ARPA funds will be spent this year, County Manager David Smith said that he wanted all of it into the 2022 budget so commissioners could draw upon it as needed for federally approved uses, which include public health response, water and sewer infrastructure, and public sector revenue loss.
“We have already experienced $53 million in certified revenue loss,” Smith said. The county built federal coronavirus recovery funding into the 2022 budget “to be sustainable over five years, only utilizing the ARPA funds to replace revenues that we have already lost.”
The county has also received more than $514 million in requests for ARPA funding from 212 outside agencies. It has already approved $16.4 million to 16 agencies, including $550,000 to consulting firm Guidehouse Inc., a coronavirus testing nonprofit, and $4 million to Towne Twin Village, a homeless housing project.
County staff proposed $38.5 million in new general fund budget items, including $15.3 million for 5% pay raises for county employees.
Commissioners also approved a 5% pay raise for elected officials on Tuesday, with the understanding that any elected official can forgo the raise by officially declining it. Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) was the lone vote against authorizing pay raises for elected officials.
“I’m all in favor of an increase for frontline workers, janitorial, emergency operations, who have been essential during this pandemic,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s the time for those that sit in seats of power to have a raise at this point.”
There were no pay raises last fiscal year due to the coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact but in the year prior, the commissioners of Precincts 1, 2, and 3 declined their pay raises. The county judge and Precinct 4 commissioner accepted the pay raise. Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said he will likely decline the raise again this year. He said he voted to authorize the pay raise for all county elected officials so everyone could make their own decision.
“The way I look at it is, every elected official in Bexar County is answerable to constituents,” he said. “If they believe they earned a pay increase they’re able to take it, and I believe in giving them the option to come to that decision independently. It’s a way to treat them as professionals and they have to answer to their constituents.”
The proposed budget also includes $8 million for overtime pay at the sheriff’s office, plus several proposed new positions, including four deputy sheriff positions to support the Specialized Multidisciplinary Alternate Response Team (SMART), a mental health response program that commissioners funded after law enforcement killed Damian Lamar Daniels.
The new positions would only be funded, however, if the cost for jail overtime pay is not projected to exceed the budgeted amount by April 1. DeBerry praised staff for including that caveat in the proposed budget. DeBerry has admonished Sheriff Javier Salazar for running up a large overtime bill multiple times in the past year.
“I was glad to see that there was an incentive provided to the sheriff associated with them keeping down those jail overtime costs because we’ve been struggling with that for a long time,” she said.
Commissioners agreed to put the same property tax rate as the previous fiscal year — $0.301097 per $100 property valuation — to a vote in September. Keeping the tax rate from last year will generate an estimated $10 million in additional revenue, much of which can be attributed to new construction, the rest from rising property values. That tax rate will be discussed at a public hearing before commissioners vote on it.
Commissioners also approved the property tax rate supporting University Health, keeping it at $0.276235 per $100 property valuation, the same rate as fiscal year 2021.
DeBerry sought more information on homestead exemptions on both the county property tax rate and the hospital district property tax rate. Though the deadline to set a homestead exemption for fiscal year 2022 has passed, DeBerry hopes that the information that University Health and county staff brings back to commissioners will help inform a potential exemption starting in 2023.
She asked county staff and University Health President and CEO George Hernandez to return to commissioners court with potential implications of an expanded homestead exemption on the county’s and the hospital system’s operations and funding, respectively.
“Homeowners are looking for tax relief in any way, shape, or form they can get it,” she said. “Probably one of the easier ways to be able to do that is through your homestead exemption. We have several taxing entities at the county, so I’m looking into the Bexar County Hospital District as well as the county in seeking a homestead exemption to provide relief to homeowners to make being in their homes more affordable.”
While there is currently no countywide homestead exemption in place, disabled residents and homeowners over the age of 65 qualify for tax exemptions. There is a homestead exemption in place for the flood control fund.
Commissioners are scheduled to approve the property tax rate and the fiscal year 2022 budget on Sept. 14.