The $1.78 billion proposed Bexar County budget continues cost-cutting measures the county manager instituted at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioners discussed the breakdown of the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, which starts Oct. 1. Operational funds and capital funds are budgeted about the same as last year, County Manager David Smith said, but he included some budget cut recommendations such as eliminating seven vacant law enforcement positions from the sheriff’s office, saving $1.34 million, and eliminating 38 constable positions, saving $2.7 million.

“What I have tried to propose so far, other than the constables really, is deleting vacant positions,” Smith said. “If we needed to come up with a similar-sized reduction next budget, we might be forced to look harder cuts – for instance, reductions in force or across-the-board pay cuts. I’ve tried to avoid doing those things and instead, deleting funding for vacant positions as much as possible.”

County staff also recommended maintaining the property tax rate at $0.301097 per $100 of property value. If commissioners approve, this would be the 26th consecutive year the Bexar County property tax rate has not increased, Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean said.

Since the property tax revenue provides funding for the County budget, Smith recommended deferring any capital projects until after the County is able to assess how much property tax will be collected in 2020. 

“I will feel more comfortable about whether we’re going to collect what these assessed values are starting in January when we see our first big tranche of property tax payments,” Smith said. “At the end of April, the appraisal district will send their first preliminary look at next year’s assessed market value. And we’ll be able to compare that to the previous April to see if it’s flat, up, down, sideways.”

Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) called Smith’s recommendation “a very wise decision.”

“We don’t really know yet how COVID is going to impact our revenue streams and being more conservative in what we do and waiting until we start to get real numbers is great advice,” Wolff said.

The proposed budget allocates funding for workforce development initiatives, requests the sheriff’s office create an avenue for constables to help fill some of the 238 open detention deputy positions, and includes funding for capital projects already approved but still in need of more resources to complete, such as the parking garage near San Pedro Creek and Fox Tech High School. See the full proposed County budget presentation here.

The County still has a hiring freeze in place to save money, Smith said; in an April memo, he implemented austerity measures to prepare for the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. There are no employee salary increases proposed for the next fiscal year. 

Commissioners also moved $11.7 million of coronavirus-related expenditures from the general fund to the federal coronavirus relief fund, freeing that money for other purposes. Bexar County received $79 million in federal coronavirus relief funding earlier this year, which has to be used by Dec. 30.

Smith did recommend putting more funding toward programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration in light of the increasing county jail population. The budget proposes expanding the use of personal recognizance bonds and residential programs and GPS programs for people released from jail. He also recommended investing $948,487 to address a rise in domestic violence calls and protective order requests. 

“We’ve seen a real surge in domestic violence, particularly through requests for protecting orders during the COVID crisis,” Smith said. “I recommended funding several initiatives to help that, in particular, the associate judge and staff to process those protective orders and liaise with people requesting those orders and get them wraparound services that might be needed as well.”

Bexar County commissioners will continue to discuss the budget in public meetings on Sept. 3, Sept. 10, and Sept. 14. Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget and tax rate on Sept. 15 and are scheduled to approve the budget the same day.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.