Bexar County Manager David Smith.
Bexar County Manager David Smith Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

As the new coronavirus continues to impact the economy, Bexar County will stop hiring for all of its vacant positions and stop discretionary spending immediately, Bexar County Manager David Smith said on Tuesday.

Early estimates show that Bexar County may lose a potential $70 million to $100 million in budgeted revenue for the fiscal year 2020-21, which translates to roughly 14 to 20 percent of revenue, Smith said in a Tuesday memo to all County departments.

“This number could grow as the pandemic continues, as more businesses are forced to close down and more of our citizens become unemployed,” Smith wrote.

Bexar County had 456 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Monday the local stay-at-home order would be extended until April 30. That order bans non-essential activities such as large gatherings and operating personal care businesses, while allowing essential services like grocery stores to operate.

“What we are hoping is that we will reach the high points [of positive cases] probably not this week but next,” Wolff said on Monday. “Data is showing that we are doing quite well with social distancing measures.”

While the order allows many businesses to stay open with social distancing guidelines in place, the desired outcome of more people staying at home has led to lost jobs and wages for more than 275,000 Texans – including thousands of service industry workers – and less spending from consumers.

Not only will the county stop hiring for vacant positions, capital projects without full funding will not start, the news release said. Capital projects that have been funded, like the San Pedro Creek project, will continue construction, spokeswoman Monica Ramos said.

The County’s economic development team will stop offering economic development incentives, offices will search for funds to build a reserve against the projected losses, the budget department will “suspend” the normal budgeting process for 2020-21. The County’s budget priorities are changing, and Smith said departments should prepare for that.

“Further details about budgeting for next year will be coming in the next few weeks as the Budget and Finance Department gains clarity into the financial impact this crisis will have on the County,” Smith wrote in his memo. “Simply put, I see no likely scenario under which the County will be able to budget ‘business as usual’ for the upcoming year.”

There is no plan to reduce the County workforce or implement pay cuts across the board, Smith said. About 50 percent of Bexar County’s employees are working from home, while the other 50 percent operate out of County offices.

Smith said that the current situation is similar to the 2008 recession, but the impact has taken effect quicker and is expected to be worse. Because of that, he said, he is implementing the same measures taken during the 2008 recession to secure the County’s financial stability.

“Last year’s budget cycle preparation indicated we could face a recession and thanks to conservative budget planning, Bexar County is positioned to act accordingly in response to this new threat,” Smith said in a statement Tuesday.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.