Bexar County proposes to keep tax rate the same, invest in major 10-year infrastructure project

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — The County Commissioners Court met today and the Bexar County proposed budget and tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year was one of the top agenda items.

County Manager David Smith presented the proposed budget to maintain the tax rate of $0.301097. If the proposal is approved, it will be the 27th consecutive year the county either lowers or maintains the tax rate for property owners.

Smith said the proposed budget is balanced at this tax rate as property values on existing properties increased by $4.2 billion and new construction generated an additional $4.8 billion.

The county budget proposal totals $2.8 billion for all funds. This total includes $651 million in operations, $1.28 billion in capital projects, $147 million for debt service, $389 million for American Rescue Plan Act funds and $278 million for contingencies and reserves. The General Fund will increase by just under $1 million from $524.2 million up to $525 million for FY 2021-22.

Changes to the budget include updates to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office in addition to a new 10-year infrastructure plan.

Under the proposed budget, the District Attorney’s Office will get funding for one additional prosecutor, two advocates, one crime victim liaison, and one support staff who will domestic violence and family justice services. The office is asking for two new attorney positions to be added in an effort to decrease Child Protective Services caseloads per attorney and three prosecutor positions to support elder abuse cases, mental health cases and misdemeanor cases.

Funding for four new Specialized Multidisciplinary Alternate Response Teams to work alongside the Sheriff’s Office are included in the proposal. These SMART teams will respond to 9-1-1 mental health calls. SMART is run by the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council.

At least one SMART program has been in operation in Bexar County since October 2020 and officials say 40% of calls were resolved at the scene of an incident, no reports of use of force on calls with SMART and 70% of individuals were given access to mental health services for the first time with the program.

Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office would like to fund 17 civilian and uninformed positions on the condition the office does not exceed the $8,013,406 budgeted for jail overtime pay, according to Bexar County.

Seven new deputy constable positions are proposed for each Constable district. The proposal includes four of those be patrol service at parks and the remaining three deputies will serve civil processes. Officials said the cost of these positions will be partially offset by savings generated by a previous deletion of 12 civil process positions.

The new 10-year, $687 million Infrastructure Program was proposed at the meeting and will include more than 80 projects.

The focus of the Infrastructure Program includes roads, flood control, creeks and trails in addition to a master plan for county parks.

The roads program will run $187 million to finance residential street reconstructions and arterial roadway enhancements, including improved pavement sections, Americans with Disabilities compliant pedestrian amenities, and improving drainage countywide.

$130 million will be earmarked for 12 flood control projects aimed at addressing frequent flooding on county roadways in addition to providing for safe and efficient mobility along flood-prone corridors during major storm events. Other flood control initiatives include large-scale drainage improvements, enhancing public safety and reducing costs to the public for flood insurance.

27 creek and trail projects are planned for $227 million in an effort to restore a degraded aquatic or riparian ecosystem, improve water quality and flood control, promote new trails and other recreational amenities, serve as a catalyst for future economic development along the river and creeks in addition to connecting neighborhoods, public institutions, city and county parks to the existing linear creekway trail network.

Officials said a series of capital projects are currently underway and a portion of the funding for this project in aimed at continuing and complementing previous projects.

$72.5 million is earmarked for the 2021 Bexar County Parks Master Plan which was approved earlier this year. The funding will cover 22 projects under the plan.

Officials said the Infrastructure Program will be financed over 10 years and will not require an increase to the tax rate.

Other capital improvement projects that are underway currently are a new satellite facility in Precinct 4, a new facility for Agri-Life Extension Services, jail improvements and upgrades as well as new enterprise systems.

New capital improvement projects included in the budget are a new criminal investigation laboratory, renovation to the Precinct 3 Satellite Facility, a new workforce training center, improvements to the Urban Farm, and improvements to the Juvenile Detention Campus to the tune of $71.4 million.

Smith proposed a 5% salary increase and a one-time bonus of $1,000 for all county employees including eligible elected officials. The request comes after no compensation or salary increases were included in last year’s budget over COVID-19 budget concerns.

“We are grateful for the cooperation from all elected officials, appointed officials, department heads and county staff to help develop the FY 2021-22 proposed budget,” Smith said. “It provides the framework for how Bexar County will navigate through the anticipated challenges during FY 2022 and continue to bring about our economic recovery.”

The budget is scheduled to be adopted on September 14.

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