Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a $1.78 billion fiscal year 2018 budget that lowers the county tax rate from $0.308 per $100 valuation to $0.304.
The approved budget and tax rate decrease will go into effect Oct. 1.
This year’s budget spends roughly $25 million more than last year’s, but remains within the 5% increase goal established by Commissioners in June. An overall increase in property values across the county allows for the Court to spend more without having to raise the tax rates.
“The Bexar County FY 2018 budget will cut the property tax rate while enhancing public safety, improving road infrastructure, and upgrading our computer systems,” County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “This is the seventh time the Commissioners Court has reduced the property tax rate since 2001, and we will continue to provide tax relief without sacrificing services.”
The budget allocates $554 million for operating expenditures; $818 million for road, flood, and capital expenditures; $141 million for debt service; $18 million for contingencies; and $235 million for reserves and the carry-forward balance.
Budget spending will create new jobs in the Bexar County Sheriff’s office, including dispatcher, operator, and public safety supervisor positions. Other highlights include funds for an Opioid Synthetics Cannabinoids Task Force and a new information technology improvement project to create the County Integrated Justice System. The system seeks to streamline processes for the intake, arraignment, and trial of county jail inmates. Close to $16 million will be spent improving computer systems for jail, case, attorney, and court management.
Other funds seek to address the County’s large jail population, which requires paying overtime to manage. Those overtime payments amounted to nearly $4 million during the past fiscal year, according to county officials. This year’s budget allocates $4 million for both overtime costs and housing inmates in other counties, although Commissioners noted on Aug. 22 that the figure could increase if the jail population does not decrease.
Some of the jail population reduction strategies include continued funding for the two Felony Jail Impact Courts that hear cases for defendants in jail that had requested either a trial or plea bargain. Other funding will provide money for additional paralegal, prosecutorial, and investigative positions inside the District Attorney’s office.
Bexar County road projects will receive $46 million in funding, including for construction in the Highland Oaks subdivision.
“With this new budget, we’ll be able to improve the safety and quality of life for our Highland Oaks residents by providing roads in Southern Bexar County,” stated Precinct 1 Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez. “Furthermore, we’ll also be able to improve the quality of life with assistance in raising the living wage.”
The County’s hourly minimum wage will increase 50 cents this year as Commissioners approved a boost from $13.75 to $14.25. They went 25 cents above what they had considered in their initial budget proposal presented on Aug. 22. The increase follows the Commissioners’ expressed desire to eventually establish a $15 hourly minimum wage.
Capital improvements funds included in the budget will go towards financing infrastructure updates at the AT&T Center. The parking lot surface needs maintenance to mitigate damage caused by heavy machinery, and a drainage ditch located next to the arena also needs to be updated. Other projects include redevelopment plans for Menger Creek on the Eastside and other improvements for Confluence Park.
Another notable expenditure in this year’s budget is $250,000 slated for the establishment of the County’s Military Transition Center, a new initiative that will offer a year of transitional services for both veterans and active military members. Military service officers enlisted in the program will contact outgoing members six months before their departure date in order to assess what sort of services they may need when transitioning back into civilian life.
“It’s always a tough transition,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Wolff. “I know because I went through it myself. So anything … we can do as a community to help foster that is a good thing.”
Only 10% of all outgoing armed service members are given some form of consultation before leaving the military, Wolff said. He wants this program to offer those leaving the service assistance with job placement, job training, education, housing, and medical services, and also help bolster the 150 nonprofit veteran services organizations already in Bexar County by increasing their efficiency and accessibility.
“Having the opportunity to start that process well before they actually walk out, I think, will make all the difference in the world,” Wolff said.
The initial funding will go toward hiring an executive director for the program. Once the program is up and running, Wolff predicts it will require up to $1.5 million a year for operations.
Commissioners also approved a resolution supporting the passage of the DREAM Act in the Congress. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently introduced legislation that would provide a path to full legal status for longtime undocumented residents who entered the U.S. as children, so long as they meet specific educational, background, and work-related requirements.
“The Bexar County Commissioners Court supports passage of the DREAM Act exactly as introduced by [the senators] without amendments … as soon as possible,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo.
Commissioners said this legislation should not be amended to add appropriations for President Donald Trump’s border wall.