District 2 residents attend a 2022 Budget Town Hall Meeting at Ella Austin Community Center. Credit: City of San Antonio

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Throughout the pandemic, you’ve come to rely on your city government more than ever — for life-saving updates about the virus, where to get a vaccine, emergency housing assistance, and recovery from severe weather to the day-to-day city services like trash pickup, safe streets and sidewalks, and police and fire services. City government touches every aspect of your daily life, and I am proud to propose a budget that delivers services in an equitable way, restores cuts made over the past two years, focuses on critical needs that have emerged from the pandemic, responds to crises differently, and invests in our community’s resiliency.

The Fiscal Year 2022 proposed budget is $3.1 billion. The General Fund is $1.3 billion, a 5.6 percent increase over the prior year. The proposed budget uses some — approximately $97.5 million — federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to stabilize the city’s budget and address the community’s immediate needs, with the balance to be allocated following input from our residents and City Council.

Restores cuts made over the last two years

The proposed budget restores cuts that were made to the city’s infrastructure services. We maintain more than 4,000 miles of streets and will be addressing 1,286 street projects in FY 2022. We are continuing to focus investments in the areas of most need, to ensure an equitable approach to infrastructure. We are investing $20.8 million for sidewalks ($3 million more than FY 2020) to create or repair 61 more miles of sidewalks. We are also investing $6.2 million in Vision Zero pedestrian safety improvements and $2.7 million to update the city’s Bicycle Master Plan. We’ll need your input on that plan and I look forward to that process.

The proposed budget also includes a 5% pay increase in compensation for city employees. Throughout the pandemic our employees have taken on many roles, such as supporting contact tracing operations or distributing food to families in need. They’ve also been caring for their families while ensuring that our residents have access to the city services they need, through the pandemic, winter storm, and other crises we’ve faced.

Economic development remains a priority, and the budget restores $4.9 million in economic development incentives to attract jobs to our community and $550,000 to assist small businesses with obtaining the bonding necessary to do business with the city and other large organizations. The proposed budget also restores Arts & Culture funding to its FY 2019 levels.

Focus on critical issues emerging from the pandemic

Without a doubt, the pandemic has shed light on the many challenges our community faces. Through our annual SASpeakUp on the budget survey, our residents prioritized public health, housing, senior services, and workforce and economic development. In our June budget work session, City Council also shared their support for these priorities.

We are investing $16.3 million in additional funding for Metro Health. This investment will implement Year 1 of the department’s Strategic Growth Plan. The Strategic Growth Plan will create a more coordinated approach to public health, with a focus on mental health, health justice, access to care, and technology infrastructure.

The proposed budget also includes $32.8 million for affordable housing and adds new community navigators to help residents, especially our seniors, find aid and resources available to them.

Responding to crises differently

In response to the communitywide discussion fostered by the city about policing, the FY 2022 proposed budget responds to crises differently by introducing a multidisciplinary response team consisting of a paramedic, health clinician, and police officer to jointly respond to mental health calls. Community advocates will also join police officers to respond to domestic violence, homelessness, mental health and substance abuse calls. And certain nonemergency calls, such as complaints about loud music, barking dogs, and fireworks, will be initially handled by other city departments.

My vision for the San Antonio Police Department is to have the best police department in the nation, in terms of accountability, training, and community engagement. Over the past year, we’ve asked our residents to tell us what their expectations of police encounters are and have taken a close look at what calls for service could be responded to differently. This approach will better connect people in crisis to services and will give the police department more capacity to strengthen their relationship with our community. This work should never end as we continue to stay engaged with our entire community.

Another great improvement is the San Antonio Fire Department’s clinical dispatch program that allows 911 call takers to provide telemedicine to residents. The program will be expanded, freeing up ambulance and paramedic resources to respond to critical emergencies.

Become more resilient to future weather events and other disruptions

We all experienced the severe, unprecedented weather conditions through Winter Storm Uri and learned some valuable lessons. The proposed budget includes investments in emergency preparedness and education so that our city is more prepared and resilient to future weather events and can avoid disruptions.

During these extraordinary times, I take great pride in proposing a budget that prioritizes critical needs and is built on a foundation of efficiency and equity. I have enjoyed reviewing the proposed budget in depth with you, as well as talking with our residents at the town hall meetings.

Make your voice heard

There are still a few more opportunities to get involved in the budget process. You can attend public hearings on Wednesday, Sept. 8, and Tuesday, Sept. 14.

I also want to extend an invite to our citywide Telephone Town Hall on Thursday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. This is a town hall meeting you can participate in from the comfort of your home and even ask your questions straight to the city staff or share your feedback. It’s easier than ever to make your voice heard. Pre-register here and we will call you when it’s time for the meeting to begin.

Erik Walsh

Erik Walsh is the city manager of San Antonio. As the CEO of the municipal corporation, Walsh oversees 13,000 employees, manages an annual operating and capital budget of $2.9 billion, and serves 1.5 million...