With the City of San Antonio facing reduced revenue from CPS Energy, city staff will reduce the proposed $3.1 billion 2022 budget by $2 million.

City Council is scheduled to approve the budget at its meeting Thursday. On Wednesday, City Council members discussed items they wanted to add to the 2022 fiscal year budget.

Most of the 48 amendments submitted to city staff will not be included in the budget presented to council members on Thursday, but City Manager Erik Walsh pledged to find $10,000 for childcare at city board and commission meetings and $500,000 for senior digital connectivity programming, two measures that had widespread support from council members.

Walsh said he did not intend to cut into the proposed police budget, which is $501.3 million. That’s an increase of just over 3% from the fiscal year 2021 budget, mostly due to required officer pay raises and retirement contributions. Civilian employees of the police department will also receive pay raises, along with the rest of civilian city staff.

The police budget is not the only one that increased, Walsh said; budgets for the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department and Metro Health have also grown, after council members and the public deemed them priorities.  

“We’re going to keep that police budget as proposed for now, but obviously that may be a point of discussion with the council,” he said.

Instead, city staff recommends eliminating economic development incentives, originally proposed at $1.3 million, and decreasing inner city incentives by $700,000. The economic development incentives are offered to businesses looking to move to San Antonio, while the inner city incentives promote growth and development within the urban core.

Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) pushed back against the proposed police budget, even bringing up a whiteboard with a handwritten chart displaying what 10 years of 3% increases would look like.

“I want it to be clear that 3% is really a $15 million increase,” he said. “And if we continue every year to increase SAPD’s budget by 3%, then 10 years from now we’re looking at an additional $172,403,497 spent annually. So today we’re proposing a $501,294,814 SAPD budget, but 10 years from now staff is going to propose a $673,698,311 SAPD budget. … Are we prepared to do that? Are we being [fiscally] responsible in allowing that to happen?”

If the council does not minimize increases to the police budget now, Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) said she was concerned that future attempts to reduce it could lead to violations of House Bill 1900, a new statute passed during the 2021 regular Texas Legislature session that penalizes large cities that reduce their police budgets.

“We’re trying to get creative on how to fund basic things like housing, mental health, and this speaks volumes,” she said. “And I think if we look at things like the SAPD budget, we can help remedy many of these issues that our communities are facing.”

Councilman Mario Bravo pointed out that negotiations on a new police contract are ongoing.

“I don’t think we should be increasing that budget more than what the contract requires us to until we’ve settled on a [new] contract,” he said.

Other budget requests

While McKee-Rodriguez originally asked for funding to hire a civil rights coordinator, Walsh said he would instead take one of the vacancies in the newly-created Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and make that person the civil rights coordinator. That office will consolidate 17 existing positions within the city government.

“That’s not a budget issue,” Walsh said. “That’s an administrative issue. And we already have the money for that.”

As recommended by staff, the updated budget proposal will include three zero-cost budget amendments. One would create a city holiday on March 31 commemorating civil rights activist César Chávez. Another, proposed by Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), would start a pilot program to find ways to better utilize small areas of city-owned green space. She gave the example of putting a park bench or a dog poop bag dispenser to make the spaces more useful to nearby residents. The last amendment would move $50,000 from the confiscated property fund to crime prevention programs. 

Council members largely agreed to keep $4 million in capital budget contingency funds rather than pay for 10 proposed capital projects, the majority of which were located in District 10. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said he would take all his district’s projects off the table, but asked city staff to draw up language for him to propose a property tax rate reduction at Thursday’s meeting.

“Look at Bexar County. They just reduced their tax rate,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a little bit, but if you take those little bits — and I’m talking about every taxing authority, including us — if you take those little bits across everybody, that would be meaningful tax relief” for San Antonio homeowners.

None of his colleagues expressed interest Wednesday in supporting a tax rate reduction.

Walsh said staff would allocate tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) funding to increase the Under One Roof program by $2 million, bringing the total 2022 program budget to $5.25 million. The program replaces old and damaged roofs with energy efficient ones, and is open to residents who makes 80% or less of the area median income.

TIRZ money will also fund a new $1 million demolition diversion program proposed by Castillo, in an effort to preserve existing affordable housing. And staff will add $250,000 to fund a “Youth Content Creator After School Program,” which was proposed by McKee-Rodriguez. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the amount of money being allocated to crime prevention programs and that CPS Energy revenue is down.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.