Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff explained how San Antonio could be an “entrepreneurial city” during a State of the County address Friday. Among the ideas introduced were a criminal justice system that focuses on reform, talent development through education and partnerships with the private sector, better transit options, and a health care system that focuses on children and mothers.
“[Entrepreneurial cities] create, link, and expand urban nodes that offer exciting choices where people live, work, and play,” Wolff said. Critical to that is creating a “friendly business environment. That means less regulation and holding down taxes.”
Wolff noted several steps the County has already taken – including reducing its property tax rate, expanding the Sheriff’s Office, Bibliotech, San Pedro Creek, and the new Justice Intake and Assessment Center – but he had a host of suggested policies for local, state governments, and other organizations.
“From south to north and east to west we need to continue to support these urban nodes by addressing flood control, extension of complete streets, transit options, and economic incentives,” he told the crowd of city and business leaders at the luncheon hosted by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Wolff said Bexar County would work with the State Legislature on bail bond reform to ensure low-income, low-risk offenders are punished differently because the can’t afford bail.
“Jails are crime schools,” Wolff said, emphasizing the need for diversion programs because, he noted, the longer people are held in jails, the more like they are to return. He also emphasized the importance of mental health programs to make sure those who need help get the proper care.
Wolff asked the legislature to “make education the number one issue” and to fund it the “right way” to keep up with decreasing state support and thwart school districts from increasing tax rates to keep up.
He called for VIA Metropolitan Transit to re-allocate resources for a demand-driven transit system.
“The current fixed-route bus system must evolve into a truly multi-modal system,” he said, one that includes trackless rapid transit and partners with first and last mile options such as rideshare, scooters, and bikes. Connect SA, a group formed by Wolff and Mayor Ron Nirenberg, previously recommended that a mass transit proposal and accompanying funding mechanism be presented to voters in 2019.
Wolff noted that while mass transit was important funding road infrastructure was equally as critical. “A source of funding for new road projects will be the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, Road and Bridge fund, and Pass Through financing in partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation.”
Wolff also spotlighted San Antonio’s opioid crisis as the city leads the state for the number of babies born addicted to opioids with more than 300 per year. Commissioners Court created the City/County Joint Opioid Task Force in June 2017, which has since received more than $20 million in federal and state grants for treatment and prevention programs.
To address the issue, the County has expanded the Sheriff’s department by 19 officers, and invested to expand University Health System to and create a separate Women and Children’s Hospital, set to be constructed in 2019. The hospital’s pediatric emergency department and neonatal intensive care (NICU) facilities will be integral to addressing babies born with opioid addiction, Wolff said.
On Nov. 12, the County and North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce will open a first-of-its-kind Military Transition Center for veterans and their family members looking to enter or re-enter the civilian workforce, he said. “Located outside the Fort Sam gate, it will be the first direct pipeline to helping them secure employment in San Antonio.”
The partnership was announced in May, during his State of the County address at the North Chamber’s luncheon.