Bexar County commissioners unanimously approved the County’s $1.828 billion 2016-17 fiscal year budget Tuesday, which included a reduced property tax rate and an increased County-wide livable wage. Due to increased property values and growth, this year’s pay plan went up from last year’s $1.7 billion.
There is already a senior citizen tax freeze and a $50,000 veterans homestead exemption, so the decreased tax rate from $0.3145 per $100 valuation to $.30895 saves taxpayers $120.2 million in the next fiscal year. The budget, which will go into effect on Oct. 1, also sets the new livable wage at $13.75, surpassing the expected $13.50, and gives other County employees a 2% cost of living allowance.
However, the County did downsize some expenditures. To reduce the County’s “explosive” healthcare costs, commissioners agreed to increase healthcare premiums for employees by 17% and implement a $100 monthly surcharge for employee spouses who choose to use the County-provided insurance instead of the coverage offered by their own employers.
If the County had not taken action, the costs were projected to balloon to $60 million by fiscal year 2020-21.
“This budget was constrained in many ways by the exploding cost of health insurance for our employees, and for the past few years the County has been absorbing that cost,” Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) said. “Everyone involved in its crafting is to be commended for stepping up and providing a fiscally sound work product.”
Another topic of debate in the budget work sessions and public hearings was the potential lay off of 17 deputy constables in Precincts 2, 3, and 4, recommended by County staff due to the decrease in constable workload in those precincts. The cutbacks, which were met with opposition by several constables and community members, were projected to save the County $940,375.
County commissioners voted to give those constables and those in the seven County clerk positions targeted for layoffs six months to make arrangements before they officially vacate their positions. The County will also cut three Justice of the Peace positions once they complete their terms.
“I’m very pleased that my colleagues agreed to fund Constable offices only for those things the State constitution and State statute mandates, and that we focus our enforcement funding through the Sheriff’s office,” stated Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Wolff in a news release. “Over the last four years this court has funded 100 new positions for law enforcement in the Sheriff’s office and the building of the first two substations in order to decrease response time and overall service to our community. This is a far better, (more) efficient use of taxpayers’ dollars dedicated to law enforcement.”
The County’s budget features a $496 million general fund and $814.6 million for road, flood control, and capital projects. Commissioners also voted to negotiate with the University of the Incarnate Word to direct $1.5 million for the construction of a clinical skills lab at the university’s new College of Osteopathic Medicine, which will be located at Brooks City Base upon completion.
“This has been a tough budget in which we’ve had to make some hard decisions,” County Judge Nelson Wolff stated in a news release. “But, I think we’ve made some progress in bringing our healthcare costs in line, and we’ve been able to create efficiencies in County operations that will benefit taxpayers in the years ahead.”
Top image: The Bexar County Courthouse. Photo courtesy of Bexar County.