Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The City of San Antonio’s fiscal year 2019 budget that City Manager Sheryl Sculley presents to City Council on Thursday will include $17.1 million more funding for affordable housing initiatives and assistance programs.
The proposed $2.8 billion budget, developed with community and Council member input, is almost 6 percent more than the 2018 budget and increases the minimum wage for City employees to $15 and includes more funding for streets, sidewalks, police and fire departments, animal care services, and more.
“We have more residents than we’ve ever had to serve,” Sculley told reporters Wednesday. “The budget is balanced; we live within our means. … The budget reflects the priorities for the community and the City Council. We are focusing most of our resources on our core services: public safety, streets and sidewalks, and now the [affordable] housing … recommendations.”
Through the general fund, the City would allocate more money for owner-occupied home repair, homebuyer assistance, neighborhood improvements, a new risk mitigation fund to assist residents with rising housing costs, and setting up a so-called “coordinated housing system,” which would strengthen the City’s focus and connection on housing resources throughout the city. Last year, the City’s budget was $8 million for housing, almost one-third of the $25.1 million proposed for 2019.
The budget also would fund preparation and public outreach for two new major federal initiatives: assisting the work of the federal government as it carries out its 2020 census and preparing the community for regulations related to Bexar County’s rising ozone levels.
If approved by Council, the City’s property tax rate would remain the same, at 55.827 cents per $100 of taxable valuation. But residents using large trash carts would 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 than large carts.
The increased housing funding comes as a result of City Council’s support of the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force’s findings that called for $20 million more per year to mitigate San Antonio’s growing housing stress.
“You can’t do it all at once,” Sculley said. “But it’s a big step forward in terms of affordable housing development for San Antonio.”
The task force recommended that money should go towards establishing a new top-level executive position for what some have called a “housing czar.”
This budget does not add that executive, Sculley said, but it would create 13 City staff positions in the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, 10 funded by the City and three federally funded. Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni and Housing Director Veronica Soto have developed a three-year implementation plan, she said, and Zanoni will oversee its implementation.
It’s possible that, after review, a top executive could be added, Sculley said.
Most Council members in June expressed support for the task force’s recommendations, which will be contained in a final report expected next week. Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) has said he expects a strong budget to support the task force’s “bold” recommendations.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) has said that the City should stay out of the “housing business” and instead relax development regulations to encourage the construction of housing. Thoughtful reduction of red tape for affordable housing is one of the task force’s recommendations that he supports.
“You want affordable housing, but yet you can’t reduce our homeowner’s tax rate,” Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) during the Council’s budget session in June. He and Brockhouse lobbied unsuccessfully to have a property tax rate reduction included in this year’s budget.
The $25.1 million for housing includes:
- $1 million: Risk Mitigation Fund (new)
- $1.4 million: Coordinated Housing System
- $3.5 million: Homebuyer assistance
- $4.25 million: Under 1 Roof program
- $7.4 million: Housing preservation/repair
- $7.75 million: Neighborhood improvements and gap financing to affordable housing developers
Little more than half of the proposed additional funding ($17.1 million) for housing programs will come from federal sources, with almost $8.3 million from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and nearly $600,000 from the HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program. The rest is from the City’s general fund ($7.5 million) and the San Antonio Housing Trust ($750,000). The Housing Trust funding – $2 million towards the total $25.1 million for housing in 2019 – would require approval from its board.
“President [Donald] Trump, in both of his proposed budgets so far, proposed completely eliminating CDBG and HOME funding,” said Jeff Coyle, the City’s director of Government and Public Affairs. “Fortunately, Congress has rejected that. They actually increased it last year … and now we’ve got to go through the whole battle again for the federal [fiscal year 2019] budgets.”
The CDBG funding increase come from funding left over from the City’s Eastpoint infrastructure commitment that concluded this year, shifting existing loan repayments, and other CDBG-related strategies, according to a document prepared by City staff.
A portion of the $110 million for streets, called for by Mayor Ron Nirenberg during his State of the City address in April, will be allocated using a new kind of “equity lens.”
An additional $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, whose boundaries don’t reach into 410, will receive a portion of the funding for some of their worst streets, too, Sculley said.
That change was brought about by Brockhouse, whose district did not receive any funding under the previous “equity lens” that gave money to the districts that have the worst streets on average. He argued that even districts with the best streets have some with potholes.
Sidewalks could receive a $9 million boost from transit district funds in addition to $10 million from the 2017 bond allocation. Advanced Transportation District funds will also be used to give to VIA Metropolitan Transit to enhance its services.
Streets that receive a failing grade, Sculley said, typically need a lot more money and so will likely be fixed through future bond programs or the five-year Infrastructure Management Program.
For example, the Hausman road project near the University of Texas at San Antonio, she said, was a $43 million bond project.
“Well, that’s half of our annual program this year,” Sculley said, “so we can’t ignore every other street.”
Other notable numbers from the budget this year, according to the City’s draft budget summary:
- Public Safety
- 8 new park police officers for expanded linear creekways and completed parks
- 4 additional EMS medic officers for the fire department
- $3.5 million to purchase a wellness building in Washington Square
- $730,000 for software aimed at increasing “police customer service and … community engagement”
- $588,000 for command officers and “emergency scene management”
- $225,000 for “leadership development for all officers”
- $5.8 million for street striping
- $1 million for pedestrian safety
- $1 million for Vision Zero programs
- $400,000 additional investment for four more citywide Animal Care Services officers to increase response times and “combat illegal sale of puppies”
- $1 million for operations and maintenance for new parks
- $1.8 million more for books, library maintenance, furniture replacement, and computers
- 1 position for Metro Health for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Trauma Informed Care “with a goal of creating a trauma informed community in 5 years”
- 2 percent increase in monthly stormwater fees
- “$345,000 to establish a youth re-engagement center at the Frank Garrett Community Center to begin to address the estimated 35,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are disengaged – not in school and not at work.”
- “$414,000 is also recommended in the delegate agency funding to provide services for this initiative”
Starting next week, City Council will hear from several department heads about their proposed budgets at nine public Council sessions. There will also be several open houses for the community to provide input. Council will then have opportunities to pitch adjustments and funding for programs that may not be in the city manager’s proposal.
City Council is slated to vote on the budget on Sept. 13. The fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
“I am pleased that the city manager has proposed another balanced budget without a tax rate increase,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg stated in an email Thursday morning. “This is a back-to-basics budget that includes a 10 percent increase in street maintenance, and it also advances the equity framework.”
“I am also pleased that this budget that moves our city in the right direction to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing as recommended by the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force.”