With a $1.2 billion bond program teed up for 2022, City Manager Erik Walsh brought six different bond priorities to City Council on Wednesday.
The size of the 2022 bond program will mark a record for the City of San Antonio; the 2017 bond was $850 million. As in previous years, voters can expect to see that total figure broken down into different propositions on next year’s May ballot. City staff recommended a package of six propositions in these categories: streets and sidewalks, drainage, parks and open spaces, municipal facilities, public safety facilities, and affordable housing.
The housing bond marks a new chapter for bond funding; voters approved a charter amendment in May that allows bond money to be allocated to affordable housing projects.
“It’s been long discussed here, for at least the last five years,” Walsh said.
Though city staff has proposed putting affordable housing, public facilities projects, hazard mitigation, and linear greenway trail construction high on the priority list, Walsh sought input from council members on Wednesday to get a sense of their priorities. Council members repeatedly stressed the need to fix streets determined to be in the poorest condition, also known as “F streets,” and invest in drainage and flood control improvements.
“I think it’s also important for us to highlight how this intersects with housing,” Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) said. “If we fail to invest in drainage, it’s going to create foundational issues for our homeowners and our mom-and-pop landlords. That’s going to create structural issues and that’s going to add them to that [list of houses] that need minor home rehab assistance, that’s going to need support from the Under One Roof program.”
Most City Council members also expressed support for allocating $250 million to affordable housing, although some asked for more clarity on how that money would be spent. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) was the sole member who opposed putting that amount for housing in the bond program. The money should go to street improvements instead, he said.
Perry also opposed increasing the bond’s public art investment in 2022, as did Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3). As structured, 1% of the bond goes toward public art, and most council members said they would support increasing that to 1.5% or 2%.
“I maintain that public art can really uplift our cities and neighborhoods as long as the art is reflective of the culture of our neighborhoods,” Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) said.
If bond funding can’t stretch far enough, Walsh said the city may be able to pull from uncommitted American Rescue Plan Act funding and from City Initiated Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) resources to help pay for council priorities.
“I don’t want a priority for our bond and a priority for TIRZ, because then we’re not coupling that money together,” he said. “We can make that transformational investment.”
Walsh didn’t have specific numbers for either of those funding streams that the city could potentially tap, but he estimated there was roughly $250 million in available ARPA funds and $100 million in TIRZ funding the council could consider using.
“How we pull that together we can prioritize, but what’s really critical today is that this is the first real conversation for the council as a group,” Walsh said.
And there is no shortage of potential projects around the city. Already, there are $2.8 billion in infrastructure projects requested by neighborhood associations, residents, and city and partner agencies. Those requests include improvements to streets and sidewalks, drainage and flood control, and enhancements to parks and open spaces. The real demand for those improvements is much larger, however, said Razi Hosseini, director and city engineer of the public works department.
“The big need is $6.6 billion, but the request right now is $2.8 billion,” he said. “People know we don’t have the money, so the request is less.”
City staff will pare down those requests after getting feedback from not only council members but also community members who sit on bond committees and review proposed projects. As proposed, there are five planned committees covering the six proposed categories — municipal facilities and public safety facilities will be combined in one committee. Each City Council district gets three appointees on each committee, while the mayor gets to appoint 13 overall — three tri-chairs of the community bond process and two co-chairs per committee.
On Oct. 13, Walsh will bring a proposed bond package to City Council, including projects scored and ranked by staff and how much money should be allocated to each category. Council members will make adjustments and send the proposals to the community bond committees.
The committees are scheduled to begin meeting later in October, according to Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez. They will make project recommendations to City Council by early January.
There are also hundreds of millions of dollars worth of requests for “regional center projects” in areas like Brooks, Port SA, and the South Texas Medical Center, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said. The SA Tomorrow plan identified 13 regional centers where they anticipate most of San Antonio’s growth will occur.
“If we want to minimize the impact to the neighborhoods near these regional centers and accommodate this growth, we need to invest in infrastructure in these areas as well,” Houston said.
The discussion of the 2022 bond comes as about 90% of the 2017 bond projects are either underway or have been completed, and city staff anticipates that percentage will increase to 97% by the May 2022 election, Walsh said.
City staff will return to council on Oct. 13 with a list of requested projects ranked and scored by staff, Walsh said. City Council will be directed to have their community bond committee appointees ready by then.
After City Council approves those recommendations, it must call the 2022 bond election by February.