Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Bexar County Commissioners approved a $1.7 billion fiscal year 2018-2019 budget Tuesday that includes a nearly 1 percent property tax reduction, a $15 per-hour minimum wage for county employees, and more sheriffs deputies. The budget also maintains funding for constables and court clerks whose positions were slated to be cut.
The Commissioners Court also unanimously approved its master interlocal agreement with the City of San Antonio for 10 shared services, despite a request from the City to delay. The agreement – which governs how the City and County use each other’s resources such as animal care services, libraries, crime labs, criminal processing, medical examiner, hotel tax collection, and more – was approved with an understanding that it is subject to change as negotiations with the City take place before the current deal expires on Sept. 30. The fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
“The adopted budget continues to secure the County’s financial future,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff stated in a news release. “It provides infrastructure, capital projects, public safety, and other much needed services to residents, while providing tax relief and maintaining our AAA [bond] rating.”
Over the past 24 years, the County has decreased its tax rate 13 times. It also provides homestead, senior citizens, and disability exemptions for property taxes. While the decrease, $0.304097 to $.301097 per $100 in property valuation, will save taxpayers an estimated $4 million next year, property owners can still expect increased tax bills over the next year as property values continue to rise.
This budget does not anticipate aggressive spending on capital projects such as roads and other infrastructure as local governments brace for possible state regulations that could limit the County’s ability to fund such projects with property taxes, County Manager David Smith said last month.
Bexar County employees earning the lowest pay grade will see an increase from $14.25 an hour to $15 an hour starting Oct. 1.
“We are extremely proud to now offer a livable wage of $15 per hour,” stated Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2). “This added benefit not only takes care of our existing employees and their families, but also helps to keep us competitive in attracting potential new hires. Other employees not covered by this, can look forward to receiving a two percent COLA increase in their pay.”
Dozens of final adjustments were made to the proposed budget in the days before the Commissioner’s vote that increased funding for several nonprofits, extended positions in the District Attorney’s office and for the Child Welfare Board, and restored funding for 15 constables and eight court clerks. Click here to view a summary of the changes.
When the proposed budget was presented earlier this month, several constables and clerks spoke out against the job cuts. Despite a decrease in workload on paper, they said, their days are plenty busy and the work they do is still needed. Elizondo and the County auditor were able to identify funding, more than $1.3 million, to keep the positions.
Two new sheriff patrol substations will be built in the East and West sides of the County, according to the budget.
“At the end of the year, the Sheriff’s Office will have two brand new substations located on the East and West sides,” stated Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1). “Working closely with the Sheriff, we have also authorized a staff psychologist, new detective positions, and new SWAT team. Not only will this result in improved response times to the communities, but closer ties to community members as well.”
The budget adjustments do not include funding for a study by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) to look at efficiencies and possible dereliction of duty by court appointed attorneys. Members of the Texas Organizing Project and family members of incarcerated people called for such a study last month when the budget was proposed.
Instead, the County is organizing an internal working group to “review each court-appointed attorney case and review costs, as well as the progress and outcome of each defendant’s case,” according to Smith’s budget summary.
T.J. Mayes, Wolff’s chief of staff, said the County is in talks with TIDC about possible cost-sharing strategies to produce a study.
The City of San Antonio officially received a copy of the County’s proposed interlocal agreement on Monday, said Jeff Coyle, the City’s director of Government and Public Affairs. City staff is currently reviewing the document, so Coyle requested more time to consider changes and negotiate it before County approval.
“I don’t know that any changes in there are minor and insignificant … or major and significant,” Coyle told the Rivard Report.
While City Council has several general and committee meetings left this month, the commissioners’ next meeting is in October. The current agreement expires on Sept. 30 at 11:59 p.m.
“[The Commissioners Court] doesn’t want to wake up on Oct. 1 without an agreement,” said Mayes, so the approval on Tuesday provides at least a “baseline, default agreement moving forward.”
According to an agenda form, the new agreement removes service agreements for the City’s animal care services, fuel, magistration, and the County’s medical examiner.
“The medical examiner services that they provide to us was taken out and we’re not sure why,” Coyle said.
However, Coyle said later that the City’s operations will not be affected by that particular change the change the county proposes. The City has found a more efficient contractor to perform the work that the medical examiner did.
“I don’t know that any of this is intentional, but clearly the two parties need to get together and hash out any changes,” Coyle said of the short notice.
An additional time constraint is added to the approval this year because there are no more extensions included in the current agreement, County Governmental Affairs Director Melissa Shannon told commissioners.
Shannon also clarified that the agreement “does not include any magistration.” The County’s $32.8 million magistrate center and jail is slated to open in December, but the San Antonio Police Department will not be using the magistrate center to book incoming people in custody.
SAPD officials say the facility is not designed for its booking needs and they will continue to use their own facilities for processing and magistration. The police department will utilize the facility’s jail side for those charged with Class B misdemeanors and above.
Service contracts for that use are proposed to be on a month-to-month basis, Shannon said.
The City has reached out to the County to “understand their plan for detention and magistration in the period of time between the expiration of the [agreement] and the opening of their new facility,” Coyle said.
As for the agreement approved on Tuesday, Shannon told the commissioners, “we can always come back for amendments.”