Officials need to decide whether a sales tax to protect the Edwards Aquifer could be shifted to fund a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Wednesday.
To pay for the ConnectSA transportation plan, former mayor and ConnectSA tri-chair Henry Cisneros has suggested taking the sales tax that now funds purchases of land over the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones and instead using the tax revenue to pay for ConnectSA projects. ConnectSA needs $1.3 billion by 2025 to implement early projects, including a rapid transit corridor running down U.S. Highway 281 and San Pedro Avenue.
“Everyone’s talking around it,” Wolff said of the sales tax being funneled toward ConnectSA. “It’s time people start talking to it or make a decision. We’ve danced around it for two years now. I don’t know any other source of funding.”
Wolff spoke at the State of the County event hosted by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce at the Henry B. González Convention Center on Wednesday. He summarized the county’s investment in economic development, the Bexar County Hospital District, and educating the community on Bexar County’s history through the new Heritage Center.
Wolff said he was most proud of the county’s efforts in workforce development. He touted the new Veterans Service Center near Fort Sam Houston, which has placed 108 veterans in jobs with an average salary of $60,000, he said. He also highlighted Toyota’s recently announced $391 million expansion in San Antonio. More than 50,000 people are employed by manufacturing firms in the city, he said.
“There’s nothing that builds wealth better than manufacturing,” Wolff said.
Along with the Bexar Heritage Center, Wolff pointed to the ongoing renovations at the Alameda Theater and the San Pedro Creek Culture Park project, which is in its second phase.
“Waterfalls, murals, landscaping, an outdoor venue for musical events, and water quality improvements will make this a beautiful place for the community to enjoy,” he said.
“It will be a dramatic piece of town … as we try to change the dynamics of the west side of downtown and have that creek tie in to the San Antonio River as it goes up toward Mission Concepción.”
Richard Perez, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce CEO and president, said he was encouraged to hear about how much Bexar County was investing to benefit the community.
“It’s a really involved, multi-pronged agenda, but it’s all necessary to move this community forward,” he said.
Wolff closed by lauding the County’s dedication to improving transportation in the region, and said he sees no other option to help VIA Metropolitan Transit work on its future bus rapid transit plans without taking the Edwards Aquifer protection sales tax. VIA currently receives one-half cent of dedicated sales tax, while other metropolitan transit authorities in Texas have a full cent, he said.
“There are no other funds that we know of available for the increased operational funds for VIA,” Wolff said.
He added that he supports the San Antonio River Authority’s efforts to secure additional funding for conservation and environmental enhancements, and praised former mayor and ConnectSA tri-chair Henry Cisneros’ efforts in leading the multimodal transportation plan to not only reduce congestion, but also air pollution.
“If we do a good job, we can do a significant job in protecting our environment and reducing our air pollution,” Wolff said.