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City officials and local constituents gathered Tuesday at the Central Library for the fourth installation of Speak Up San Antonio. The night’s topic: the proposed $2.7 billion City budget.
Government and Public Affairs Director Jeff Coyle and City Manager Sheryl Sculley recorded an episode of her The City Insider podcast, broaching subjects like applying an equity lens to budget resources and allocating more funds to entities such as VIA Metropolitan Transit and the San Antonio Police Department. Sculley also answered questions regarding school districts and bike lanes with physical barriers.
“We’re just trying to really educate the public about the budget and then get feedback on what they think is most important,” she told the Rivard Report.
Organizers booked the event with the intention of pulling Millennials into the budget discussion. With live music from RANCH\HOUSE and food samples provided by Honeysuckle Teatime and Southern Grit Flavor, City officials sought to elicit feedback from voters 35 and under.
“Tonight we really tried to gear the event – thus more activity and some music – to Millennials,” Sculley said. “Usually when we go out into the community, like last night we were up in [District] 10, we had about 200 people, but it was mostly seniors. And so we wanted to do this one downtown.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and several City Council members spoke before the podcast recording began. Nirenberg outlined components in the proposed budget, scheduled to be voted on by the Council on Sept. 14.
“We’re improving the budget on things like streets and drainage,” the mayor said. “We’re improving the resources in police and fire [departments]. We’re doing the things that you would expect us to as a big city, a great city. Not just if you live on one side of town, but if you live anywhere in the city of San Antonio.”
Alongside fellow Councilmen Roberto Treviño (D1), William “Cruz” Shaw (D2), and John Courage (D9), Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) addressed the 100-member audience before the recording began, pointing out that 70% of her constituents are under 35.
“I think this is important information for you all as we’re getting the word out about how we spend your city dollars in your city budget,” Gonzales said. “While a lot of the times the people that have input are over 55, we actually should we planning for a demographic that’s 35 and younger.”
Anna Morton, 31, was one Millennial voter from District 1 who contributed to the budget discussion. After the podcast was recorded, she filled out one of the question cards City staff had provided for feedback.
“The question I asked was about how they’re using the funds to promote energy efficiency and sustainability in the built environment,” Morton said.
Online feedback forms were also provided through laptops stationed outside the auditorium. The form displayed information such as the breakdown of the budget between the general fund, restricted fund, and capital program. Constituents could check boxes stating that they liked that there were no property tax increases in the budget, or that they disliked increased street maintenance funding. Other spaces allowed respondents to pose questions or provide additional comments.
Outside the auditorium, tables staffed by the City and community organizations offered attendees opportunities to learn more about available services. SA Tomorrow, the police and fire departments, Solid Waste Management, and the City’s economic development, parks and recreation, and animal care services departments each had tables lined with branded trinkets and pieces of information.