Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The San Antonio City Council on Thursday approved a $2.8 billion budget for 2019 with a unanimous vote. The budget, which does not include a tax rate increase, was developed with community and Council member input and, for the first time, prioritizes funding for affordable housing programs. Housing initiatives and a flat tax rate faced challenges from two Council members.
This budget also raises the minimum or "living" wage for City employees to $15 an hour and includes more funding for streets, sidewalks, police and fire departments, animal care services, and more.
The City's budget was $8 million for housing last year, almost one-third of the $25.1 million proposed for 2019. The Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force's policy framework released this summer and approved by Council, called for $20 million more per year to mitigate the growing affordability gap in San Antonio's housing market.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said this is a "back to basics" budget.
"After a yearlong effort of community input and a data-informed analysis, the Mayor's Housing Policy Task Force recommendations were adopted last week," Nirenberg stated in a news release. "This City budget furthers our commitment to expanding affordable housing by approving $25 million towards developing a coordinated housing system and providing new resources for rehabilitation to preserve affordable housing."
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) supported a motion from Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) that would have removed more than $9 million from such housing programs and prevented an increase to event parking fees. That motion failed 9-2.
Brockhouse and Perry both have maintained that entering into the housing construction and funding market is not the "core" business or service of City government and should be left to private firms. They do, however, agree with some task force recommendations to consider removing red tape for affordable housing developers.
Perry then supported a separate Brockhouse motion that would have reduced the tax rate by 1 percent, cutting about $3.9 million from the budget that should be taken from new housing initiatives, Brockhouse said.
That motion also failed 9-2. Then Perry cast the lone vote against the new tax rate.
Several Council members, including the mayor, had to recuse themselves during some votes because of the far-reaching budget that touches many personal and business interests of those on the dais.
Also new this year is the funding for two new major federal initiatives — assisting the federal government as it carries out its 2020 census, and preparing the community for regulations related to Bexar County's rising ozone levels.
Residents using large trash bins will see a $4.32 increase on their bill starting in October in an effort to increase use of recycling and organic carts. Small carts will be $19, $10 less than large bins.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for $110 million to improve streets during his State of the City address using a modified "equity lens," similar to the one used for the first time last year. About $11 million will be allocated citywide to streets inside Loop 410 that have average or below-average grades in some of the oldest neighborhoods. Council districts 8 and 9, which don't have territory inside 410, also will receive funding for some of their worst streets.
A new youth re-engagement center at the Frank Garrett Community Center on the West Side will be established with $345,000 from the General Fund. The center aims to address an estimated 35,000 youth who are not in school and do not work. An additional $414,000 was awarded to various nonprofits to provide services.
Included in the budget are a host of smaller requests made by most Council members regarding a more than $4 million fund balance from CPS Energy revenues since the budget was proposed in August and emergency fund.
That includes a unique $400,000-request from Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) for staffing, events, and capacity development for the next two years for the Westside Arts Coalition, a group of eight organizations dedicated to promoting Latino art and artists.
Typically, such funding is recommended and distributed through the Department of Arts and Culture's application process that allocates Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue set aside for the arts. Through that process, the coalition received an additional $1.375 million.
"[This budget is the] signature work of a Council who is inclusive and compassionate and, more than anything, fiscally responsible in addressing the needs of this city," Gonzales said.
Those amendments include about $750,000 for an aggressive intervention program for families dealing with asthma. It was previously suggested by some Council members that the Pediatric Managing Asthma Through Care Management in Homes (PMATCH) should receive $900,000.
Perry said if Bexar County can reduce its tax rate, so can the City.
“I think we need to … look deep within ourselves – when are we going to provide some tax relief for our homeowners here in San Antonio?”
Perry and Brockhouse have advocated for a homestead exemption that would give homeowners that claim primary residency at a home in San Antonio a 5 percent discount.
With increasing property values and increasing demands on City services, however, the savings that homeowners would realize would be minimal. Taxpayers would save $27 annually, on a $100,000 home valuation with a 5 percent exemption, according to City staff, meanwhile it could cost the City $6 million – cutting into its services and administration.
That could have been covered with money carried over from last year’s budget or with money spent on housing initiatives, Perry said.
“We have not increased our property tax rate for 25 years and in fact over the past decade we have lowered that rate … four times,” Sculley said. “There are so many needs out in the community. Even with this $2.8 billion annual operating and capital budget, we’re still not able to address all of the needs. And so we recommended this year that we maintain the current rate.”
Other cities, such as Austin, is raising its tax rates, she said.