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The San Antonio City Council unanimously passed a $2.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2016 Thursday morning. It’s a budget that has been six months in the making, one that increases the minimum wage for City employees, lowers the City property tax rate, puts body cameras on police officers, increases funding for street and sidewalk construction and maintenance, and pays out money to capital projects across the City.
The new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Almost every council district received money from the Capital Budget for extra projects, including $500,000 towards the renovation of Lerma’s, a now-abandoned conjunto night club in the Westside; District 2 will soon see a “Bark Park” at Broadway and I-35; District 9 will receive $1 million for the Hardy Oak Road extension to relieve extreme traffic congestion; a $450,000 allotment towards a new health clinic in District 4; and almost $500,000 for initial staffing and consultant work for the Lone Star Rail District, which plans to build a commuter rail between San Antonio to Austin; and more.
The complete list of projects totals $5,565,000, $5 million of which comes from the 2016 reserve, the rest from savings from previous facility maintenance projects. Download the full list here.
The Council started with $41.6 million worth of projects that were pared down over the last three days. Many of those projects that didn’t make the cut will be considered for the 2017 city bond program.
The police union contract negotiation still looms large over the budget process. While both sides have said they are prepared to return to the bargaining table, negotiations ended last week with the police union announcing it would not budge on a $20 million gap in proposed wage increases over the life of the proposed five-year contract. There are bargaining sessions scheduled. Both the police and firefighter unions will continue with the age and benefits plan from the last contract, which expired Sept. 30, 2014. The current contract remains in place because of a 10-year evergreen clause, the constitutionality of which is being challenged by the City in court.
More than $4 million in General Fund amendments were kept out of budget discussions, pending the development of a new collective bargaining agreement that would keep public safety costs within 66% of the General Fund.
“The City Council expects to discuss any amendments to the General Fund budget no later than early October. We are anxious to receive a proposal from the police union that is within the financial parameters,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley said after the vote. “The president of the union (Mike Helle) has told the mayor and several council members … that they would come back with a proposal that’s in the ball park of (the City’s) proposal. … The longer they delay the less likely and less dollars will be available for salary increases.”
The San Antonio Police Officers Association has agreed that member dependents should start to pay modest health care premiums, but its most recent bonus and wage increase proposal puts the contract far above the 66% threshold. If a deal is not reached soon, uniformed City employees, police and firefighters will not receive any bonuses or wage increases in FY 2016. That money will instead be used to cover the rise in health care costs from the legacy plan throughout the year.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.
The general fund budget also includes $3 million to purchase 1,534 body cameras for officers. The cameras will be gradually deployed among officers in three phases over the next three years.
City Council also approved almost $8 million in other budget amendments from small-ticket items like $75,000 of the Hotel Occupancy Tax Fund for a website that will “serve as a platform to begin defining a footprint for a cultural district in the Southtown and West area,” to million-dollar investments in airport infrastructure, including a connection between the Stinson Airport to the Missions, Port San Antonio site development, and use of the Economic Development Incentive Fund.
Click here to see the full package of amendments approved today. Click here to view the proposed budget, a link to a digital copy of the budget will be added as soon as the City publishes the document online.
*Top image: City Manager, Sheryl Sculley discusses the approved city budget. Photo by Scott Ball.