City Council members and staff will likely work late into the night before the $2.5 billion fiscal year 2017 City Budget is up for consideration on Thursday morning. During their budget work session Wednesday, Council members made several tweaks, requests, and pleas to balance out $9.4 million still in question.
City staff will now take the direction received from Council today and produce a final list of amendments that will be voted on tomorrow alongside the budget. Each district has needs that will go unfulfilled, so Council members jockeyed for their projects to move higher up on the funding list.
“This is sausage making here, folks,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor as she closed the meeting. “Democracy at work.”
Despite some disagreements, Taylor said City Council is still “rowing in the same direction.”
Though City Council did not vote during these discussions, there seemed to be general support for increasing City employees’ minimum hourly wage from $13 to $13.75, providing more benefits to City Council aides, and increasing funding for the implementation of the recently adopted SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Master Plan.
Items that seemed to be on or near the budget chopping block this round include the San Antonio Under 1 Roof pilot program in Districts 1 and 2 and proposed funding for the MLK March and Eastside Dreamers Academy Summer Youth Program, both in District 2. Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) agreed that many of the programs on the final list, which fall in his district, could survive with less funding.
After Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) passionately defended the energy-saving “white roof” program he started in his district, Councilmen Joe Krier (D9) and Mike Gallagher (D10) asked City Manager Sheryl Sculley to defund the program until research proved it effective. Other Council members did not come to Treviño’s defense.
The City has an excess $4.5 million in the General Fund for next year due to a federal reimbursement for Medicaid and uninsured EMS trips as well as additional CPS Energy revenues, Sculley said. The City will use General Funds for the wage increase as well as $1.7 million in Restricted Funds. Three capital projects worth $3.2 million are also on the amendment list.
Click here to download the amendment list, but keep in mind that it has already changed after today’s budget session.
Krier was not convinced that existing Planning and other City department staff could develop the regional and community plans called for by SA Tomorrow without hiring extra staff. The budget amendment proposed today allocated about $1.7 million to SA Tomorrow implementation over the next two years, which would allow for the development of five regional plans and six additional staff members. The original proposed budget released in August called for two more City planners at a total of $160,000 and one regional plan at $250,000.
After noting that none of his or Gallagher’s funding requests made it to the list presented by Sculley today, Krier asked Bridgett White, director of Planning and Community Development, what the money would be used for.
White explained that each plan would require its own staff member to see it through and coordinate with different City departments. If SA Tomorrow is to stay on its implementation cycle of five years, the regional and community plans will need to be developed concurrently. SA Tomorrow implementation will cost about $3.8 million over the next three years, according to City staff.
“I hear what you’re saying but there is a disconnect, it doesn’t translate,” Krier said. “I voted last (month) for the plan. I did not vote for $3.8 million in new spending.”
Krier suggested that funding requests for SA Tomorrow be made by each department as needed, rather than all at once.
“If there is funding that we could find, it would have to be from that (SA Tomorrow) line item,” Councilman Cris Medina (D7) agreed.
Medina’s list of proposals was received by Sculley’s office after the meeting started Wednesday afternoon and included funding requests for a dog park near Woodlawn Lake, a comprehensive music industry study, the creation of a music office, and park improvements, among other items.
Krier joined other Council members in challenging the funding model for Hemisfair Park, which was part of a separate budget discussion outside of the proposed amendments. Most Council members felt more could be done to attract small and large-scale philanthropic funding.
When City Council created the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation in 2009, it intended for plans to be self-sustaining and free of City funding. While those plans remain, they currently need City funding until the leases from developable parcels start paying into programming and maintenance.
Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor listens to a colleague at City Council B session talk about the 2016 budget. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.