Proposed $2.7 Billion City Budget First to Use ‘Equity Lens’

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The intersection of Burnet and N. Palmetto streets is an example of repairs needed in District 2.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The intersection of Burnet and North Palmetto streets is an example of an area in need of repair in District 2.

“Equitable” is not a word many would use to describe how San Antonio, and many other cities, spend money. Until now.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley will present a $2.7 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 to City Council on Thursday morning. It will be the first to use a so-called “equity lens” to allocate resources. Instead of dividing funds equally among the 10 council  districts, an equitable budget commits more resources to areas and populations where needs are greater, often areas that have been largely ignored for decades.

The equity lens is a policy that most City Council members directed City staff to use during its budget goal-setting session in June. During its meeting on Wednesday, City Council heard from Chief Equity Officer Kiran Kaur Bains, who leads the Diversity and Inclusion Office. Bains will be playing a more prominent role in this new administration as it “embeds” equity throughout City departments and operations.

Without raising the City’s property tax rate, the proposed budget increases spending on streets, public safety, and neighborhood improvements. It also increases the minimum civilian employee wage from $13.75 to $14.25 per hour.

Because 2018 will be the first full year of 2017 bond implementation, several other departments are staffing up to meet scheduling goals for major infrastructure projects across the city. The budget also accounts for more events during the Tricentennial celebrations and implementation of the SA Tomorrow comprehensive plan.

Budgeting for Equity

What does an equitable budget look like?

During the next fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1, districts 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 would receive more street maintenance funding than other districts because they have a higher percentage of below-average or failing street conditions. About $35 million left over from previous bond programs will be used for even more street improvements in those districts. At least two Council members – Councilmen Greg Brockhouse (D6) and Manny Pelaez (D8) – say this will be a tough sell to their constituents – but more on that discussion later.

Equity budgeting doesn’t necessarily mean taking funding away from one area or community and giving it to another, Sculley said. It’s more of a “funding shift” to focus on those who need resources more. Equity is not a zero-sum game, according to many Council members and City staff.

The City’s tree program, for instance, will have a renewed focus on providing trees to areas with less tree canopy and residents who are less able to afford trees, such as neighborhoods in districts 2, 3, and 5, Assistant City Manager María Villagómez said.

A dying oak tree fronts the entrance to a Hollywood Park house.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A dying oak tree wilts near the entrance of a Hollywood Park house.

“For those residents, [trees probably] are not a priority,” she said, but they will accept them and a healthy tree canopy provides community-wide benefits. “We’re changing the way we think about services.”

There are also substantial oak wilt problems in districts 9 and 10 that the tree program could help mitigate.

The City will also be retargeting its efforts to assist homeless individuals and adding more Animal Care Services officers to districts that need it most: 1 through 5.

“That’s who needs it,” Sculley said. “It’s not equal, but we don’t need it in all 10 districts.”

The same principal can be applied to drainage, she added.

“The flooding this week is a perfect example that drainage knows no political boundary.”

Public Safety Remains a Top Priority

The FY 2018 budget will increase 5% over 2017. A portion of it will be spent on essentially non-negotiable functions: Restricted Funds at $858 million and Capital Plan at $639 million. Less than 66%, about $778 million, of the $1.2 billion General Fund will be used for police and fire contracts, which the City negotiates with uniformed employee unions.

The budget assumes that the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association still will be operating under its contract’s evergreen clause, the constitutionality of which is currently being challenged by the City. A ruling on the lawsuit is expected to be announced next week and appealed up to the State Supreme Court regardless of the outcome.

Public safety is always considered a top priority by Council, and San Antonio’s relatively low number of officers per capita was criticized during the campaign season earlier this year.

The proposed budget adds 40 new officers to the San Antonio Police Department with an increase of $3.8 million: 25 through a pending COPS Grant, three officers for commercial areas the City anticipates annexing, two park police, two airport police, and 34 operators for the 911 call center.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus gives cadets a talk on the reasons behind joining the department.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus addresses the latest cohort of police academy cadets in July 2017.

Eight more SAFFE (San Antonio Fear Free Environment) officers will be hired, Sculley said: three on the Eastside, three on the Westside, and two more in areas that will be assigned by Chief William McManus. SAFFE officers are tasked with maintaining close relationships and fostering positive interactions with the community they patrol in order to “prevent crimes before they happen,” according to the City’s website. Some of these positions are made possible by discontinuing the ShotSpotter gunshot detection program in high-crime neighborhoods. McManus did not find the technology helpful, Sculley said.

SAPD vacancies spiked in previous years because a previous City Council chose in 2014 to maintain vacancies to make up for the expired police and fire contracts.

As of Wednesday, there are 113 vacancies, Sculley said, but five police academy classes for 40 cadets are included in the FY 2018 budget.

“Yes, we have vacancies, but we’ll play catch-up,” Sculley said, adding that the department typically has 50-60 vacancies.

This budget increases entry-level pay for cadets from $41,000 to $45,000 this year.

The San Antonio Fire Department this year received a budget increase of $5.2 million for 31 new firefighters and 12 paramedics for an EMS unit at the medical center.

Chief Equity Officer to ‘Embed Equity’

The City created the Diversity and Inclusion Office (DIO) in 2015 and appointed Bains to lead a strategic planning team that would promote equity in development and implementation of City processes.

Chief Equity Officer Kiran Kaur Bains talks about the goals of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

Chief Equity Officer Kiran Kaur Bains talks about the goals of the Diversity and Inclusion Office.

The mission of the DIO is to cultivate an environment of respect and inclusiveness among the diverse populations of San Antonio as a means to advance the growth, stability, and strength of the community. Goals include advancing equity in all functions of government, strengthening engagement with communities of color and low-income communities, and collaborating with other institutions to achieve the City’s vision of prosperity.

Bains spearheaded interviews with other cities with similar departments or programs such as Seattle that have committed to advancing equity. She engaged more than 350 local stakeholders to understand the meaning of equity and possible ways to implement it in government, the workplace, and everyday life.

“Equity is the only antidote to inequality, and it improves outcomes for everyone,” Bains told City Council during her presentation Wednesday that served as a primer for Thursday’s budget discussion. “Equitable delivery of City services requires equitable community engagement, and equity impact assessment is both a process and an outcome. It’s the right thing to do for governments, and it’s also about effectively and efficiently delivering our services.”

Bains launched a pilot initiative and imparted 15 hours of training on 65 City employees in six departments: Government and Public Affairs, Human Resources, Human Services, Solid Waste Management, the Metropolitan Health District, and the San Antonio Public Library. Trainees analyzed applying equity assessment to their specific programs, a seven-step tool that includes collecting and analyzing data, understanding historical context, developing strategies, engaging those impacted, and reporting back on impact.

“We have developed a three-year strategy to fully operationalize equity in the organizations across departments,” Bains said. “Performance metrics will hold departments accountable to their equity action plans. Those specific performance metrics will feed into larger community indicators.”

Trinity University Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Christine Drennon presented to Council an analysis of the city’s history of segregation and explained how from the 1930s to the 1960s federal red-lining locked non-white neighborhoods into poverty. This pushed people of color into areas with smaller, more haphazardly planned housing.

Trinity University Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Christine Drennon explains the intentional, systematic segregation of San Antonio.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

Trinity University Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Christine Drennon explains the systemic segregation of San Antonio.

“Opportunity is distributed spatially,” Drennon said. “The more economically segregated a metro area is, the less economically mobile its residents are.”

The effects of that history of red-lining, which restricted wealthier neighborhoods to white families, is still present today, Drennon said, and one of the reasons why San Antonio leads the nation in economic and social segregation.

For the last 15 years the 78207 zip code has been highlighted as a landscape defined by inequality, lack of opportunity, and poverty, she explained.

By keeping this history in mind, Drennon said, the City can effectively address deep-rooted issues that low-income families and minority groups face.

“These are uncomfortable truths,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, reacting to maps and data presented by Drennon. “Every resident deserves a city that functions at every corner for every resident.”

Nirenberg said that it’s important to think of historic inequity when making choices in budgets, initiatives, and how the City manages resources. This also applies to creating jobs and opportunities in all parts of the city.

“Some people may dismiss it as academic, but the more we educate our own citizens about the history we are proud and not quite proud of, the better off we’ll be,” the mayor said. “We need to put efforts into communities who are not on the internet or won’t call us. We have to bring a voice to the voiceless in our community and really turn things around.”

While most Council members seemed to accept Drennon’s presentation and findings, Councilmen Greg Brockhouse (D6) and Manny Pelaez (D8) called for other perspectives to be included in the discussion, citing other possible “angles or opinions” when it comes to how the City should appropriately allocate its resources.

“We’ve got to dig a lot more into what you are presenting,” Brockhouse told Drennon. “What you are asking is not where citizens are right now. … We need other views on the table – not just equity lens, but the eyes of the homeowner and resident. We have to convince them.”

Pelaez added that “what people feel” should also be taken into account, and that the focus should not only be on the data.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) acknowledged that although looking at the data and history is difficult, historical context is important. Paying more attention or funds to areas of town that were often ignored “is not a zero-sum game,” Saldaña said.

“Folks felt a certain way when a landfill was dumped in their community, but they didn’t have a say in that,” he added.

Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2) agreed.

“It’s data-driven and regardless of how you feel about it, it’s reality,” Shaw said. “One thing I’d like to say is a zip code should not dictate your success.”

Shaw juxtaposed the Dominion to the Eastside, comparing new streets to ones that are falling apart.

“Let’s switch houses just for a year and see how it feels,” Shaw said, reacting to Peleaz and Brockhouse’s comments. “At the end of the day we are all one city. Every side has to be able to prosper. We all want what is best for the city.”

City Council will vote on the proposed budget on Thursday, Sept. 14. Over the next month, City Council will hear a number of presentations from most City department heads about their plans for the next year. Cities in Texas are required by law to maintain balanced budgets.


10 thoughts on “Proposed $2.7 Billion City Budget First to Use ‘Equity Lens’

  1. I live in District 5. I feel that certain areas of District 5 have been nelected for decades. I live near an empty field that’s between a SAWS tank and Roosevelt Elem. school. This empty lot has passed many owners. The current owner of this empty lot wanted to have it re-zone to built apartment or a new sub-division. The residents petioned against this re-zoning. Thankfully City Council voted againsted the re-zone. Our neighhoods has at least 40 or more abandon houses located just a few blocks away ( that’s another problem). I have brought this to the attention of City Council Gonzalez. I reported this to her staff a few years back. I have gone into her office to make the same request over at least two and four times. My request has been that our city buy the property and make it into a city park for our community. Let’s not stop there. This property is located right of a creek which would make a GREAT CONNECTION to creating walking and bike paths. The possibles are endless to making this area into another GREEN SPACE. I have seen these spaces ALL OVER our except in our area. Please look into creating a city park and GREEN SPACES that connect to other parts of the city. This property is currently a dumping area for unwanted pets and furniture. When residents complain about the dump violators the city has done a good job of cleaning up the area. The property was originally a small working farm. I have lived here in this area for over 50 years now. I am very familiar with the history. Please help make a difference in our coymminty. A park/ GREEN SPACE would create a much better eniviroment for ALL.

  2. Thank you, Mayor Nirenberg, City Council, and Ms. Bains for bringing this issue to the forefront. Our city, like most cities, has distinct areas of “haves” and “have nots”. We are one city; no neighborhood should “count more” than another. Every citizen of San Antonio deserves great infrastructure, no matter how big the houses are or how much money the residents make!

  3. I’ll believe it when I see it. The Northside has leeched off the budget for decades. District 2 is decades behind in infrastructure support. We dont even have a hospital. It tooks decades for them to build the Schaefer library as well. Meanwhile they’re wasting millions on a landbridge.

    • District 8 has the least park space in the city even with Hardberger Park being added. District 2 has Southside Lions, Salado Creek, Willow Springs Golf, and borders Hemisfair, downtown, and Brackenridge. The Northside has SUPPORTED the budget for decades by contributing more in taxes but receiving an equal portion back. That is what makes SA government better than what you see in metro Dallas or metro St Louis where the wealthier areas are in separate municipalities. Now the city is talking about sending back less per person. I don think that is fair at all.

  4. I’m no arborist, but the photo in the article appears to be of an old dying ash tree, not an oak tree suffering from oak wilt. All of the ash trees home developers planted 40+ years ago are rapidly dying all over the city.

  5. Great! That means there will be “equity” in the taxes collected as well, right? Each district will “contribute” an equal amount of taxes to the city coffers……(I didn’t think so.)

  6. “During the next fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1, districts 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 would receive more street maintenance funding than other districts because they have a higher percentage of below-average or failing street conditions.”

    Based on the above example, it seems that city staff and council are not looking at social equity with the budget but rather equity. There is a big difference. And, personally, I’d rather see a social equity lens taken with the budget. The term social equity applies to justice and fairness among groups and communities that have seen historical disinvestment and lack of fairness in social policy over the decades that has led to lower performing social indicators. The social equity lens looks at investing in communities based on demographic analyses and access (or lack of) to opportunities, not based on which district is lacking something. Based on a social equity lens, District 10 does not fit who should receive trees (following the example above).

    It would be nice to know how they define equity when looking at equity in next year’s fiscal budget.

    • I would add that there is a duty of care to address identified hazards in San Antonio — including where we know pedestrians have been hit or killed and where we know we are in violation of ADA pedestrian transition requirements.

      I haven’t reviewed the 2018 draft budget yet, but I hope that it applies a hazard mitigation lens to expenditures. We have the City’s ADA Pedestrian Transition Plan (2011) and Hazard Mitigation Action Plan (2015) as well as Alamo Area MPO’s 2016 recommendations for improving pedestrian safety and amenity on key San Antonio street segments to implement. These three detailed plans ‘triage’ / prioritize physical infrastructure improvements based on identified risk and need across districts in San Antonio.

      San Antonio has become more dangerous for pedestrians in recent years (the number of pedestrian deaths has increased since the City declared VisionZero and a near state of emergency for pedestrians in 2015). There’s no equity without safety, and Council should acknowledge the need to address identified hazards to human life and health in the built form of San Antonio as a priority — in some cases these identified hazards relate to and reinforce historical patterns of segregation and discrimination.

      Council needs to demonstrate how budgeted work fits with key plans to mitigate known risks to human life and health in the current built form of San Antonio. We have the plans, we just need to be accountable to them and report our progress towards achieving them at least yearly.

  7. “Without raising the City’s property tax rate…”

    Do they think we are idiots? Valuations have continuously increased. They don’t need an increase in the tax rate to bring in more monies, but our taxes RISE!

  8. Here’s an uncomfortable truth: Mayor Nirenberg’s proposed FY2018 Annual Budget unceremoniously shifts (yet again) the completion date for connecting Alazan Creek and Martinez Creek trail work from FY2019 to FY2020 while appearing to slash about $300k from the already lean Alazan Creek trail project budget. It also appears to take about $200k off of the remaining Apache Creek trail work to be done this fiscal year and needed to make this path safe and ADA accessible from Elmendorf Lake to downtown (19th Street to San Jacinto).

    There is absolutely no equity in this. A few short miles of West Side creek recreational trail and flood mitigation work, planned since at least 2011 and now budgeted only about $10m in total, when eventually (if ever) built will connect multiple public schools, senior centers and public housing with neighborhoods, shops, parks, VIA bus stops, universities, the Mission Reach, the River Walk, downtown and jobs; it’s work that should have been (and could still be) fast-tracked for SA300. The connected West Side creek trail work was called ‘long-awaited’ by the Express-News in 2013 and was the center of our public planning in 2011. What do we call it in mid-2017 except disregarded and disrespected?

    This is pedestrian corridor / healthy and safe transportation work for the heart of the 78207 zip code mentioned above, which is meant to be a focus of our more ‘equitable’ City council and FY2018 budget (which like the current budget includes a sizeable TXDOT grant for B-Cycle network expansion; after years of investment, there are no B-Cycle stations currently anywhere in the 78207 and despite recent creek trail work and long plans to have bikeshare at Centro Plaza and Five Points transit hub). The draft FY2018 budget seems to make clear how some of the players have changed but the West Side / 78207 loses out and remains purposefully disconnected by the City from the rest of San Antonio despite the most recent lip service about addressing segregation.

    [A map of 78207:,+TX+78207/@29.4114621,-98.5507591,13z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x865c58d362f1d015:0x1e73186dad533e24!8m2!3d29.4174949!4d-98.52267066%5D

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