‘Speak Up,’ San Antonio: City Calls for Input on 2018 Budget

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City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

Over the next month the community and City Council will weigh in on the proposed $2.7 billion 2018 City budget, a 426-page document now available to review online on the City’s website. The largest budget in the City’s history will, for the first time, use an “equity lens” to allocate resources where they are needed most, according to officials.

The proposed budget adds 40 new police officers, 43 new firefighters, and the City’s first immigration coordinator while increasing funding for street maintenance and mass transit.

Six community meetings will be held across the city over the next month, including one on the Southside that will be conducted entirely in Spanish. Meeting details and an online survey are available here.

There are also opportunities to attend Council briefing sessions, which are open to the public and typically include public comments, as each department will be presenting their plans for 2018. Click here to view a list of Council and other public meeting agendas. Typically, the budget hearings appear under “Council B Session” and “City Council Special Session.”

The first briefing, which will cover streets, sidewalks, drainage, transportation, capital improvement, and the City’s debt management plan, is scheduled for Tuesday Aug. 15. City Council is scheduled to vote on the budget on Sept. 14.

“This is not the final draft,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Thursday after City Manager Sheryl Sculley presented the document, encouraging the public to participate in the SASpeakUp process. “This is a working document.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Council members agreed with the basic premise of equity, but some questioned the process City staff used to determine the areas deemed most in need.

At the center of the discussion is the sacred cow of street maintenance – a City service that is at the top of most constituents’ minds, along with public safety and drainage. The proposed budget uses $35 million left over from the 2007 and 2012 street and drainage bond programs to boost street maintenance in districts 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 where the average street grade is below average or failing.

“There are many areas in the community that have … streets [in poorer condition] than in other areas, and so we’ve added additional resources to those areas that have been traditionally underserved,” Sculley said. “We are still providing street maintenance throughout the entire community.”

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) challenged the methodology of the extra allocation for other districts based on their average street grade.

“I don’t think looking at averages helps us with equity,” Sandoval said, noting that all districts have various amounts of low quality streets. That analysis maybe skewed if a district has outliers – several incredibly bad or incredibly good streets that drag the average down or bring it up. “We have to get into the granularity and not be fooled by averages.”

Asked about the methodology used, Sculley said the budget office could take a different approach if it gets that directive from City Council.

“We know that we have streets that need repair throughout the entire community,” Sculley said. “We’ll be presenting and discussing with Council a variety of options as to how we approach the equity lens for street improvements.”

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) joined in Sandoval’s concern over the process – but his criticism of the equity lens was that it wasn’t thoroughly defined for Council before it was applied to elements of the budget.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D7).

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6).

Equity lens is a just a “catchphrase” or a “hashtag,” Brockhouse said, part of a “leadership-by-slogan mentality … People laugh at the equity lens moniker right now.”

When the 2017 municipal bond was overwhelmingly approved by voters in May, it included an emphasis on so-called “citywide” projects located in the urban core, he said. He wondered why the equity lens wasn’t applied to the bond, but is now being applied to the budget to “cure inequality with more inequality.”

Other City leaders have said that investment in downtown is indeed an equitable investment because the entire city benefits from the economic and cultural vibrancy of the urban core.

Brockhouse would like to see more perspectives and information about equity and historic segregation in San Antonio, he said. “Get out of the data and onto the streets.”

That doesn’t mean data isn’t important, but street grades don’t necessarily take into account how many people use the street or if it’s near a school, Sandoval told the Rivard Report after the meeting.

“It’s always important to roll up our sleeves and look at what it means on the ground and not just the numbers,” she said. “We need to take into account additional information that’s not captured in the data we’re being presented.”

The definition of equity will continue to be finetuned, Nirenberg  told reporters after the meeting. “We do know that if you take away the lines on the map that we see assets of the community and needs that need to be addressed, so we’re going to budget that way. It also means that no resident, no neighborhood, no part of our community will be left behind in that process.”

Nirenberg admitted that “equity lens is just a word. What we’ve tried to do over the years is make sure that the needs of residents are meet. We are now establishing a budget that does that in a very direct way.”

4 thoughts on “‘Speak Up,’ San Antonio: City Calls for Input on 2018 Budget

  1. There’s equity of the streets and then there’s equity of the creeks in San Antonio that should be a concern with the draft FY2018 budget.

    The proposed FY2018 ‘equity’ annual budget unceremoniously shifts (yet again) the completion date for connecting Alazan Creek (p. 362) and Martinez Creek (p. 374) trails with Apache Creek trail 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 (p. 362) 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 what the draft budget does to connected West Side / zip code 78207 creek trails, a project endorsed by county voters in 2010 and again in 2015. A few short miles of connected West Side creek recreational trail work, planned since at least 2010 and now budgeted only about $9m 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 vital public work that should have been (and could still be) fast-tracked for SA300.

    The creek trail projects the FY2018 draft budget delays and slashes are for healthy and safe transportation, recreation, economic development, and anti-segregation infrastructure supportive of more environmentally sustainable development through the heart of the 78207 zip code — which is meant to be a focus of our more ‘equitable’ City council and FY2018 budget. 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 2010. What can we call it in mid-2017 except disregarded and disrespected with this draft budget?

    I also note that draft FY2018 budget (like the current budget) includes a sizeable TXDOT grant for B-Cycle network expansion (p. 213) although it does not include any map of planned new stations in FY2018; fifteen stations were meant to be installed in San Antonio this fiscal year with more than $700k in TXDOT funding. After years of public ‘transit’ investment in B-Cycle, there are no B-Cycle stations currently in zip code 78207 and despite long plans to have bikeshare at VIA’s Centro Plaza and Five Points transfer station (both are in zip code 78207).

    The draft FY2018 budget seems to make clear how some of the players have changed but the West Side / zip code 78207 loses out and remains purposefully disconnected from the rest of San Antonio by the City despite the most recent lip service from the Mayor and Council about addressing at least some of the segregation experienced by zip code 78207.

    I ask that Council reconsider the draft FY2018 budget and:

    – at least maintain but possibly increase the current (FY2017) budget for projects 26-00657 (Alazan Creek), 26-00601 (Apache Creek) and 26-00654 (Martinez Creek) and re-commit to completing these vital connected trail projects by FY2019; and

    – commit to constructing B-Cycle stations at Centro Plaza and Five Points transfer station as well as other B-Cycle stations in zip code 78207 in FY2018 with TXDOT grant funds for B-Cycle network expansion.

  2. I’m a little curious about the city’s numbers on police officers. A few weeks ago when the new police academy class started KSAT reported there were 161 vacancies and after the 51 cadets graduated there would be 110…even though 1 of the cadets was an arson investigator. Now a few days ago Fox reported there were 113 vacancies and 116 cadets. Did the city start another cadet class and not cover it? Did the city manage to hire 48 officers in 2 weeks? Is the city providing inaccurate numbers or do they actually not know how many officers they have?

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