By Bill O’Neil
A final thumbs up from San Antonio’s City Council on a budget for the coming year.
“It is balanced as is required by law… there is no property tax rate increase” City Manager Sheryl Sculley told the Council ahead of Thursday’s vote, describing the $2.7 billion spending plan.
Writers insist the plan will help ensure the City maintains its AAA bond rating.
“I can’t be prouder of the work that this Council and the staff has done to really hone in on a budget hat not only is balanced–but keeps this city the strongest financially managed city in the entire country” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
The budget includes many familiar themes.
“Our street maintenance budget is increased from $64 million to $99 million” Sculley said, before highlighting public safety.
“42 new police officers” Sculley said, adding “We’re also recommending 43 new fire and emergency medical services uniformed personnel.”
Councilman Roberto Trevino expressed his pride in the plan.
“Wi Fi in ten parks… the 311 system is being upgrades… several million dollars more for drainage… we’re expanding our school crosswalk program” Trevino said.
Also part of the budget is a big boost in funding for VIA–$10 million.
“As policy makers, we have to look at our city holistically and ask ourselves where we have weaknesses… our transportation and our public transportation is one of those areas” Councilman Rey Saldana said, welcoming the funding increase for VIA.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales agreed.
“What we experienced with this gas shortage over the last few days shows that we must have alternative ways to get around in this city” Gonzales told her colleagues.
Others see the budget in terms of progress being made. Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran sees it as a “down payment” on addressing past inequities.
“San Antonio continues to be the most economically segregates city in the United States–and we all share in the shame and disgrace that such a designation brings” Viagran said, welcoming increased spending on items such as public transportation, outreach to immigrants and the homeless and more.
Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw echoed a similar sentiment.
“We need to be thinking about San Antonio as a whole… and I think this budget does that” Shaw said.
‘”This is the first budget where we can truly say to everyone in this community you have been heard… you have been at the table… we have been listening to you” the Mayor said.
Viagran said she wants to look forward and address inequity in the city–as she viewed the budget process: without “Washington-style” politics.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse called that characterization unfair.
“I would counter to my colleague that every thing about this is highly political” Brockhouse said, frustrated over what he sees as a budget that is unfair to his west and northwest side district–especially the rejection of an amendment for nearly $800-thousand for a community center in his district in favor of sidewalk replacement work Downtown.
“I will stand for District 6 and those residents across San Antonio that believe back to basics core services come first” Brockhouse said, adding he remains confused over the “equity lens” many members of Council have talked about looking at the process through.
Brockhouse’s attempt to return that funding to his district ultimately failed, as did his push to reduce the proposed property tax rate after a robust conversation amongst the Council.
“I want you to have this community center, and I will work with you and hopefully with staff to make something happen if we can at the midyear review” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said.
“I believe this is a fair and reasonable budget for my neighbors in District 9 and for the others districts… and for the citizens of our city” Councilman John Courage said, strongly opposing Brockhouse’s amendment.
Councilman Clayton Perry voiced his support for the plan–but said he will look for ways of providing real property tax relief to homeowners in the year ahead.
“I’ve received comments from folks around San Antonio–not just in District 10–that they need some help” Perry told the Council, signaling his plans to look for that help in the months ahead.
“We’re talking about this year’s budget–this is not a suicide pact. We’re all going to survive this budget process” Councilman Manny Pelaez said.