The San Antonio City Council is taking steps to mitigate homelessness by considering a $200,000 expenditure to hire a consultant to develop a comprehensive homelessness services study and funding plan.

The Council will vote on the measure, which will use savings realized through the routine mid-year budget review process, next week.

City staff already has met with stakeholder groups from more than 25 organizations, including the business, tourism, faith, and homeless service provider communities, to discuss ways to provide sustainable funding for Haven for Hope, the city’s primary homeless shelter, and other efforts. Suggestions include increasing parking fees, river barge tickets, and creating a new electronic scooter fee. Those stakeholders will continue to discuss options this summer.

The search for longterm homelessness mitigation funding for Haven for Hope was initiated in December 2018 after Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) led an unsuccessful attempt to carve out dollars from an industry-imposed tax on hotel nights. Tourism leaders and a majority of City Council balked at the idea but pledged to find another source of sustainable funding.

Most Council members on Wednesday were receptive to funding the study.

The mid-year review also was an opportunity to look ahead at the City’s financials, which face challenges in the next two fiscal years, said Budget Director Justina Tate, but will become “structurally balanced in 2022.”

Until then, there will be very limited funding for additional spending priorities on top of the existing services the City provides – unless City Council decides to cut programs or services.

In addition to considering funding for homeless mitigation, the Council also agreed to consider adding staff to assist with large re-zoning projects, staff to livestream Council committee and board meetings, funding for Ella Austin’s youth programming, six positions in Development Services, $500,000 to replace the Convention Center roof after weather damage, $500,000 for Visit San Antonio, and $2.4 million to help Haven for Hope renovate a building that will serve 500 homeless people annually. The adjustments represent nearly $4 million combined.

However, there were at least $18 million in unfunded, new initiatives suggested by Council for next year, including 25 new police officers, 42 new firefighters, two fire trucks, EMS units, and a possible property tax homestead exemption that Council will discuss during the budget process. Maintaining other services as-is, the City projects it will have $3.1 million for such policy issues.

Districts 2, 4, 6, and the mayor’s seat are currently embroiled in runoff campaigns for the June 8 election and the new Council’s first budget goal-setting session is slated for June 21. Who wins those seats will have a large impact on how the next two budgets are formed. Citizens also have a say through online and in-person feedback avenues hosted by SA Speak Up, the City’s public engagement program.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and others expressed an interest in increasing the cost of living adjustments for non-uniformed City employees. Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who is running for mayor, agreed but said the City should further increase the number of police officers.

Some City Council members, including Clayton Perry (D10) and Brockhouse, have lobbied for a property tax homestead exemption, which would reduce the City’s budget. Meanwhile, the State Legislature is poised to implement stricter property tax revenue caps that would undermine the city’s ability to take in more than 3.5 percent of tax revenue growth.

The City’s Chief Financial Officer Ben Gorzell said if a revenue cap had been implemented during the past 10 years, the City would have lost out on $137 million in revenue and save the average homestead homeowner $20 per year.

The cap reduces the City’s ability to recover from a recession, Gorzell said, and provide services for a rapidly growing region.

City Council will vote on the mid-year budget adjustments on Thursday, May 16. It’s slated to vote on the fiscal year 202o budget on Sept. 12.

Click here to download the informational presentation given to City Council.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com