Bexar County commissioners approved a $1.78 billion budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year on Tuesday. The Commissioners Court also voted Tuesday to approve the proposed tax rate of $0.301097 per $100 of valuation.

The tax rate is the same as the 2019-2020 fiscal year, though the County estimates it will collect $15.9 million more in tax revenue compared with last year.

Commissioners voted Monday to eliminate 19 of 69 deputy constable positions instead of 38, one of the budget changes adopted since the original 2021 budget was proposed in August, saving more than $1 million.

Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) was absent for Tuesday’s budget vote but said later in the meeting that he supported it. Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) was the lone vote against the $1.78 billion budget, but not just because it cuts constable office staffing, he said.

“I called for a tax cut. I don’t think we’ve done enough on mental health. But with respect to the constables, that’s a whole different issue,” Calvert said.

Several community members showed up to Tuesday’s meeting in support of cutting funding from the sheriff’s department and constables’ offices, prompting Calvert to explain his position. Constables’ primary purpose is to execute warrants and serve civil papers, as well as provide security for justices of the peace. Calvert cited a recent change that allows justices of the peace to have jurisdiction over civil matters up to $20,000 in value; before Sept. 1, that maximum was $10,000. That alone would increase the workload for constables, he said.

“There’s a backlog coming up,” Calvert said.

Though eliminating 38 deputy constables would have saved a projected $2.7 million, the county manager’s office was able to offset the difference by moving revenue from the debt service tax rate to the maintenance and operations tax rate to the tune of $1.5 million for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Some of the speakers Tuesday who support the deputy constables warned commissioners that their actions would be revisited during election season. Others saw the cuts as evidence that Bexar County commissioners were aligning themselves some in with the Black Lives Matter movement calling for cuts in law enforcement funding.

Wolff disputed those arguments. 

“What we’re doing here in a very tough time … is to make sure we’re managing our dollars appropriately,” Wolff said. “The facts are what they are: the volume to have constables’ offices serve civil warrants is not what they used to be, and therefore we don’t need as many resources as we used to.

“While the public might try to make this about philosophical differences and stuff, it’s not.”

Wolff added that commissioners did react to current issues in its 2021 budget, pointing to a $1.5 million allocation to a mental health pilot program created after Damian Lamar Daniels, a Black Bexar County resident, was shot and killed last month by a sheriff’s deputy responding to a mental health call.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff reminded his colleagues and listeners that some budget factors, such as how much the County will be able to collect in property taxes, are still unknown because the pandemic is not over yet.

“We know we’re going take a fiscal hit on the valuations from all the hotels downtown,” he said. “It took two and a half years for the airline industry to come back after 9/11.

“I don’t know any of us know for sure, but … hopefully we’ll be in good shape and will be able to make further decisions on what we’re going to do.”

Commissioners also voted Tuesday to add three polling locations to the early voting period, for a total of 48 sites, and Election Day, boosting that number to 285. The last five days of early voting have been extended – poll sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.  Early voting starts Oct. 13.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.