SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – The proposed $2.9 billion budget presented to the San Antonio City Council Thursday includes $487 million for the police department. That’s $8 million dollars more than last year.
In his presentation, City Manager Erik Walsh attributed much of the increase to a 5 percent salary hike for officers, which is stipulated in the police union contract. He also told the council that programs currently operated by SAPD will be evaluated to determine whether some of those duties can be transferred to other departments. He doesn’t expect a report from the Public Safety Committee until April, so SAPD funding won’t be affected in the 2021 budget.
City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval expressed her support for redefining policing. She said police often respond to calls that don’t require a uniformed officer or a weapon.
“I’m glad to see that we’re taking to heart what the police chief has told us many times, which is we cannot arrest all of our problems away,” said Sandoval. “We need other methods to bring public safety to the community.”
While the proposed city budget includes a hiring freeze as one of the cost-cutting measures to make up for a $127 million shortfall, that does not include SAPD, which has several vacancies left by officers who have retired. Sandoval questioned whether those uniformed positions should be filled while the future of some SAPD programs remains uncertain, and the duties of some of those officers may be shifted.
Councilman Clayton Perry said the council has worked hard to increase the number of officers and the size of cadet classes.
“I don’t want to do any back-stepping or sliding back because people want more police officers in their neighborhoods,” Perry explained.
Perry told his colleagues that if they want to cut the number of police officers, they can absorb the reductions in their districts, “but I’m going to stay where I’m at in my district and not have any reductions.”
The overall budget is $7.7 million lower than last year. Despite a drop of $127 million in revenues, there is no increase in the city property tax rate and no layoffs in the proposed 2021 budget, but mandatory furloughs are proposed for the following year. In addition to a hiring freeze, there will be no pay hikes for city employees, other than those mandated by public safety contracts.
Other cost-cutting measures are as follows:
The budget for San Antonio Metro Health would increase by 23 percent, one of the largest increases of any department. The city says response to COVID-19 continues to be a priority, not only for Metro Health, but for the San Antonio Fire Department, Neighborhood and Housing Services, Economic Development and Human Services departments.
“The City of San Antonio continues its work through the $191 million Recovery and Resiliency Plan to build a San Antonio community that is stronger, healthier and more resilient than before COVID-19,” said Walsh. “The four pillars of the Recovery and Resiliency Plan, which was funded with federal CARES Act dollars, are housing security, small business support, workforce training and school digital inclusion.”
The proposed 2021 budget would include $102 million for street maintenance and $18 million for sidewalks. It also would create a new Transportation Department which will be responsible for multimodal transportation planning, mobility, pedestrian and bicycle safety and transportation demand management.
Other strategic investments in key City Council and community priorities include:
Violence Prevention: a new division in Metro Health with a total investment of $8.9 million, including $1.3 million in new funds and the transfer of 20 Crisis Response Team workers from SAPD to Metro Health
In addition, the City would recognize Juneteenth as one of the City’s 13 holidays by shifting one day from the winter holiday schedule.
Revenues from Hotel Occupancy Taxes (HOT), Convention Center and Alamodome are projected to be down by $51 million in FY 2021 because of COVID-19 . To mitigate the revenue losses, $36.3 million in reductions are planned.
The City will host 10 virtual budget town hall meetings and a free drive in community budget meeting and movie screening at the Alamodome.
You can monitor the virtual town hall meetings live by visiting www.sanantonio.gov/tvsa or the City’s Facebook page. You can also watch on television channels: AT&T 99, Grande 20, Spectrum 21, and digital antenna 16.1, or listen live by dialing 210-207-5555 and selecting option 1 for English or option 2 for Spanish.
In addition, you’re invited to submit your budget questions in advance by calling 311, emailing [email protected], using #SASpeakUp on social media, or by texting your question at “SASpeakUp1” to 55000.