Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The $1.78 billion proposed budget for Bexar County contains funding for 48 new county positions, including five additional prosecutors for the District Attorney’s Family Violence Division.
The proposed budget increased slightly from the previous fiscal year’s budget of $1.715 billion.
In his presentation Tuesday to county commissioners, Management and Finance Director Seth McCabe proposed maintaining the property tax rate at $0.301097 per $100 in valuation, the same as the previous fiscal year. Despite that, county staff expects to generate an additional $19 million in property tax revenue the next fiscal year due to population growth and increased valuations. The tax rate has not increased in 25 years.
This is the last budget before Bexar County experiences the impact of Senate Bill 2, which requires cities and counties to hold elections if they want to raise 3.5 percent more property tax revenue than the previous year.
The County expects property values to increase by $11.2 billion in the next fiscal year.
The proposed budget provides $16.45 million for new and existing flood control projects and $20.5 million to begin six new road projects.
The proposed county budget makes family issues a priority by setting aside funding for the District Attorney’s office to increase staff in the family violence division and family justice protection order division. The proposed budget also gives funding to the county’s Child Welfare Board to help prevent repeat removals of children from their families.
“Working together with the courts, District Attorney, Office of Criminal Justice Policy, Planning and Programs, and other departments, this proposed budget reflects the need to face the underlying issues which affect our community,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert said in a statement. “Not only must we address the issues of family violence and child abuse and neglect, but provide resources to families to stay out of the justice system and reduce recidivism.”
County commissioners also approved an additional 49,440 hours in overtime pay for detention officers at the Bexar County Adult Detention Facility. The County expects to pay out approximately $8 million in overtime-related expenses through the current fiscal year, and the proposed county budget recommends putting $5 million toward addressing the jail population and vacancies in the ranks of detention officers.
As of Aug. 19, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office had 141 vacancies in the jail and 37 vacancies in law enforcement. The sheriff’s office has struggled to hire enough staff at the jail, forcing officers to work more hours to meet minimum jail standards of officers per inmates.
The current collective bargaining agreement between the County and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County requires the sheriff’s office to give special consideration to detention center officers when hiring for law enforcement positions. This means the sheriff’s office must hire detention officers who are qualified to work in law enforcement, which shrinks the pool of qualified detention officer applicants, Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said. The current hiring process is broken, he argued.
“We do a bunch of Band-Aids over time,” Wolff said. “We have someone doing a great job in detention but really wants to be in [law enforcement]. We don’t want to lose them in detention, so we start creating levels – let’s take sergeants and make them lieutenants, so we can hold on to them. I get it. Nobody wants to lose good people. But you don’t structure an organization around the abilities of individuals. You structure an organization to meet goals.”
Wolff said he did not want to continue to “throw money” at the problem.
“Today, this body just approved $1.7 million in overtime to cover two months [of detention officers’ pay],” Wolff said. “That was never budgeted. It’s gotta come from someplace. It’s only in our best interest to create organizational systems that will spend money as wisely as possible.”
Two public hearings on the budget are scheduled for Aug. 29 and Sept. 3. Commissioners will meet three more times to discuss the budget in work sessions. A vote to approve the proposed budget and property tax rate is scheduled for Sept. 10.