San Antonio City Council approved a $3.7 billion budget for the 2024 fiscal year Thursday, up 9% from the previous fiscal year’s adopted budget. 

The biggest spending increases will go toward growing the police force, which will add 105 new officers in the coming year, and beefing up funding for the city’s Animal Care Services Department

The budget approved Thursday also makes major investments in low-barrier shelters, outreach workers and cleaning up homeless encampments after a citywide survey found almost every council district named addressing homelessness as a top priority. The city hopes to perform 700 encampment cleanups in the coming fiscal year, up from 500 in 2023. 

“We’re going to hit the ground running on that issue and keep the council informed and the public informed,” City Manager Erik Walsh said of the efforts to combat homelessness after Thursday’s vote. “I’m going to be looking for [data on the progress] monthly, if not weekly from the departments.”

The budget was approved 10-0, with Councilman Marc Whyte (D10) abstaining. Heading into that vote, Mayor Ron Nirenberg thanked colleagues for “making difficult decisions in the final hours of this budget process.”

“I also want to commend my City Council colleagues for bringing their unique perspectives to an ever-evolving approach to what it means to be safe in our communities,” Nirenberg said.

The final days of the city’s months-long budget negotiations were rocked by the addition of a $500,000 fund to assist with reproductive health access, managed by the city’s health department. The council will determine at a later date whether that money could go to groups that help people travel out of state to receive abortions.

“The intent for this funding is to give women, who sometimes have little to no options and opportunity, to make the best decision possible regarding their own health,” said Councilwoman Marina Alderete Gavito (D7). “Texas still ranks 49 out of 50 states for women’s health. … To many of us here today, women’s health care is a safety issue.”

Before the vote, anti-abortion groups protested outside the meeting, and Rev. Antonio Gonzalez of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, invited by Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3), brought it up in his invocation.

“I took the prayer of Solomon for each one of you… who are the ones setting rules, to preserve the most precious gift, that is life,” Gonzales said.

Anti-abortion advocates pray outside San Antonio City Council Chambers during the day of the proposed budget vote on Thursday.
Anti-abortion advocates pray outside San Antonio City Council Chambers during the meeting of the proposed budget vote on Thursday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Whyte, the nonpartisan council’s lone conservative, made a lengthy speech about his personal opposition to abortion before proposing an amendment to restrict the funds from going toward services by providers who offer abortion. The amendment was seconded by Councilman John Courage (D9), a potential mayoral contender who was among the five members who called for the fund’s creation.

“The city in the past has never provided funding for any services related to abortion, even when it was legal, so I get concerned about setting a precedent that we may be doing today,” Courage said. “Part of my oath of office is to obey the laws of the state, even if I may not personally agree with them.”

The amendment failed 2-9, with Whyte and Courage voting in favor. Courage later said his concerns were resolved and he felt good about the city’s right to create the fund.

His comments prompted City Attorney Andy Segovia to assure members that nothing the council did with the fund is illegal or prohibited by state law, however.

“The council will determine … the scope of services and what organizations will perform those services,” Segovia said. “We will work with the council and with a medical director to ensure that we’re within the parameters of state law.”

Whyte then proposed an amendment to separate the reproductive health fund from the rest of the budget vote.

“There’s so much good in this budget, but I cannot vote for this budget with this in there,” he said of the fund.

The amendment was seconded by Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), but failed 2-8 with the support of Whyte and Pelaez. Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), who said he sympathized with Whyte’s concerns about voting on a budget he’s only had a few months to influence, abstained from the vote.

Additional provisions included:

Property tax changes

City Council voted to approve a property tax rate of $.54159 per $100 of valuation for the 2024 fiscal year, a slight decrease from the previous fiscal year.

This is the first year the city has needed to use a portion of its banked increases from previous years to fund city services.

Earlier this year members of the council voted to increase the city’s homestead exemption, from 10% to the maximum 20%. Walsh said that led to a decrease in the average taxable value for homeowners. 

City employee pay raises

Thursday’s budget includes a 4% percent pay increase for the city’s roughly 8,500 full-time and 500 part-time employees. It also increased entry-level wages from $17.50 to $18.00, including for temporary and seasonal employees. 

Guillermo Vazquez, a field director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees praised the budget’s changes for city employees, including a new performance-based pay system, as a victory.

“[These changes] came about because several of our city employees … worked diligently to move forward and work with the city management team to address these factors,” he said at Thursday’s council meeting. 

Surplus funds

The council also voted to approve a list of last-minute budget amendments using a one-time revenue surplus from city-owned CPS Energy, which gives some of its profits to the city.

CPS Energy was able to sell the electricity it produced to other regions for a profit of roughly $104 million during recent close calls experienced by the Texas Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Surplus CPS Energy revenue contributed an additional $20 million for the city’s 2024 budget, Walsh said earlier this week.

Unlike the previous year’s budget discussion, which included a spirited debate about refunding surplus CPS Energy revenue to ratepayers, this year’s surplus came primarily from energy customers in other markets.

After a series of work sessions this week, the council decided to use $7.2 million of that money to expand a citywide mental health response team, known as SA CORE, which will begin operating 24-hours per day. 

McKee-Rodriguez called the move a “demonstration that we’re moving in a forward direction” on the city’s approach to public safety.

“I myself have had to call SA CORE to assist someone who was close to me when they were having a crisis, but no one in the family knew how to respond and collectively refused to call police into their neighborhood because they couldn’t trust that things wouldn’t have tragic end,” McKee-Rodriguez said.

Members of the council tried to use some of the CPS Energy revenue to add 14 more ACS officers to respond to critical calls, but the idea didn’t make it into the final budget due to concerns about the department’s ability to fill the roles.

The final budget did include an additional $2.1 million to fund two new ACS storefronts to perform spay-and-neuter surgeries. 

Council member projects

The city will use $1 million of the CPS Energy surplus to increase council members’ Neighborhood Accessibility and Mobility Program by $100,000, meaning each council district will have $550,000 per year to spend on projects in their districts. 

A plan to also increase council members’ personal infrastructure funds for their districts didn’t make it into the final budget. Walsh said in a memo to the council he would call for a review of the NAMP program this fall “to remove barriers” for the use of the funds.

Council also approved $1 million over the course of two years to increase council offices’ budget for printing and community engagement.

Other final additions:

  • $100,000 to go toward the creation of a pilot program to assist seniors with code compliance
  • $1.75 million to go toward ballistic glass for police vehicles
  • $300,000 will fund 100 flashing stop signs in key accident locations
  • $1.4 million in American Rescue Act funds to go toward a construction mitigation fund

Correction: An earlier version of this story said McKee-Rodriguez supported an amendment to separate the reproductive health fund from the rest of the budget vote. He actually abstained from that vote. 

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.