Update: City Council unanimously approved a series of mid-year budget adjustments on Thursday including a grant to San Antonio Pets Alive, a payment to Ella Austin Community Center, and $102,000 for video conferencing technology in City Council chambers (see full list in story below). Some items were discussed on Thursday, but the bulk of conversation and analysis took place on Wednesday during Council’s B Session meeting.

Originally story published on Wednesday, May 12:

A City staff recommendation to give San Antonio Pets Alive a $375,000 boost to continue its operations, finding permanent and foster homes for animals scheduled for termination at the City’s shelter, was well-received by City Council members on Wednesday.

The support from Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Alan Warrick (D2),Rebecca Viagran (D3), Rey Saldaña (D4), Shirley Gonzales (D5), Ray Lopez (D6), Ron Nirenberg (D8), Mike Gallagher (D10) and Mayor Ivy Taylor indicates that Council will vote to approve the measure when it votes on the City’s routine mid-year budget reallocations on Thursday.

The nonprofit Pets Alive has been struggling since it started more than four years ago, but has been an integral part of San Antonio’s attainment of “no-kill” status, that is, the live release of at least 90% of incoming animals. The public money will be granted only if: Pets Alive finds a $150,000 matching grant, hires a new CEO within 60 days, and allows a City staff member on its board. The lease for the adoption center at Brackenridge Park, which Pets Alive has been occupying rent-free as part of its contract with the city, will also be put up for competitive bid.

They have already received a $125,000 grant the Hurd Foundation, said Pets Alive Chief Operating Officer Tommy McNish. He and his team are looking to fill in the $25,000 gap.

“Essentially (this money) just gives us a runway to make those changes while we’re still functioning,” he said, adding that the nonprofit has an annual budget of more than $2 million and about 55 full time employees.

San Antonio Pets Alive Chief Operating Officer Tommy McNish answers questions from City Council. Photo by Iris Dimmick
San Antonio Pets Alive Chief Operating Officer Tommy McNish answers questions from City Council. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

There’s a general consensus among council and the animal advocacy community that Pets Alive performs necessary functions, but that it has been mismanaging money and resources.

“We’re buying some time to be more thoughtful about how we create a better strategy (to sustain no-kill),” Treviño said. He echoed his council colleagues’ suggestion that a broader discussion about San Antonio’s policies and strategies are needed.

The money would be taken out of what’s left of the City’s $1 million contingency fund, which is used to balance the budget throughout the year and cover unexpected expenses – like emergency funding for flood damage control. There was $572,000 left, the SAPA allocation brings that down to $197,000.

Council has the option to spend the remainder, but on Wednesday it erred on the side on caution – and on the advice of City Manager Sheryl Sculley – when it told staff it would like to see that money left alone.

“We have not been through the storm season yet,” Sculley said. “I would hate for us to go ahead and spend the balance of the contingency fund not knowing that we could have some other unforeseen expenses or weather event.”

Despite lower than expected revenues from sales taxes and CPS Energy due to a mild winter, the City’s budget is balanced and projections for the years ahead are stable, according to a briefing given to Council by Assistant City Manager María Villagómez. Revenues are projected to be $11 million below budget by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

The City was able to make up the difference through savings on fuel and streamlining departmental expenses.

“We’ve had growth, but not at the level we had projected back in August (2015),” Sculley said.

Villagómez and Sculley emphasized several times throughout the meeting that becuase the police and fire union contracts have yet to be negotiated, the evergreen clauses of their old contracts will keep costing the city more and more. Therefore, the City will not be able to open up any more positions in either department.

Click here to download her presentation (a very large PDF).

Other mid-year budget adjustments include:

  • 30 part time call center positions in the police department will become full time at no extra cost to the general fund.
  • $102,000 for video conferencing capabilities in City Council chambers, allowing council members to vote from afar.
  • $300,000 to replace two locker rooms and add two more at the Alamodome.
  • Add two positions to Development Services for solar panel permit and installation inspectors – but the $113,000 impact will take effect next year.
  • Shift $200,000 from District 2’s capital budget towards softball field improvements at Lincoln Park and $200,000 to expanding the midnight basketball and summer programming in the Eastside through United Way and the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.
  • $70,000 emergency funding from the City’s facility fund to reimburse Ella Austin Community Center for repair work done to HVAC and plumbing system.

Items on this list as well as the $375,000 bailout to Pets Alive are all subject to Council’s modification and vote on Thursday.


Top image: Dogs bark for attention as employees walk by their temporary shelters at San Antonio Pets Alive. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org