By Bill O’Neil
The wraps are officially of of the proposed budget for the City of San Antonio for the coming fiscal year.
“In this proposed budget for 2018, there is no property tax rate increase” said City Manager Sheryl Sculley, detailing a $2.7 billion spending plan for City Council Thursday Morning, pointing out the proposal maintains the City’s AAA bond rating.
“That (the budget proposal) is 5% higher than in 2017” Sculley said. The bulk of the additional cash would be put toward public safety and streets.
“An increase to street maintenance from $64 million to $99 million, and we are recommending a two year program” Sculley said.
When it comes to public safety, both the San Antonio Police and Fire Departments stand to see additional personnel if the plan were to be adopted as is.
“Five academy classes to fill vacancies within the police department and an additional forty new police officer positions” Sculley said, adding “In the fire department, we are recommending 43 new fire and EMS personnel.”
Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw said he’s pleased with the overall direction of the plan, citing a recent survey of people living in his Eastside district.
“The top priorities were streets, drainage, public safety and code enforcement” Shaw said.
“I believe people have the right to feel safe walking from place to another in their neighborhoods, so whatever we can do to give them that opportunity, I’d like to explore that” said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, welcoming additional investments of cash for sidewalks.
There are a number of other facets to the budget–including a renewed focus on addressing homelessness in the Alamo City.
“My office is getting calls every single day about the homeless encampments that are existing in certain areas, so I’m glad we’re taking a proactive approach to this” Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said.
“We’re adding more resources to the basics in a back to basics budget to address areas that have fallen behind” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, describing the crafting of this budget plan as the most deliberate and public process he’s been a part of.
At least one member of Council questioned why the “Shot Spotter program is not part of the budget plan.
“I’ve heard some pros and cons about it, but I haven’t seen anything that really identifies the success or failure of the program” Councilman John Courage said.
SAPD Chief William McManus said the program–which identifies where gunshots are being fired in an effort to get officers to those locations more quickly–has only resulted in a total of four arrests.
Courage also specifically asked Sculley if funding for any additional “rainbow” crosswalks is part of the budget plan. The answer: no.
Another question raised in relation to the budget: property taxes. At least one member of Council suggested now is the right time to take a closer look.
“I want to take a look at that and see if now is the time the City should take a look at rolling that (property tax rate) back again… and softening that blow” said Councilman Clayton Perry.
Recent talk of approaching how to spend money–and where–by using an “equity lens” also drew some pointed questions. Councilman Greg Brockhouse said an approach that grades his district above average overall when it comes to road conditions is not fair.
“I would challenge you to go to the streets and tell me that the Edgewood Schools area or the Enrique Barrera Highway has wonderful streets and infrastructure” Brockhouse said.
“I am for putting our funding where it matters most. That I am 100% onboard with” Brockhouse added.
Sandoval also raised her concern over the City “properly” investing its money in projects.
“I can’t tell you how many times in my district I’ve seen wonderful re-paving of streets and everyone is so happy and then SAWS comes in and does some of their work… and the street is not the same after that” Sandoval said.
A hike in the City’s minimum wage is also part of the plan.
“The proposed budget also includes a civilian entry wage increased from today’s rate of $13.75 to $14.25” Sculley said. That also includes a plan to again increase the wage to $15 per hour by 2019.
City Council will vote on the budget after several weeks of public meetings and Council sessions on the proposed plan.