‘Unprecedented’ CPS Energy Revenues to Fund Most Budget Requests

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

City Manager Erik Walsh has overseen his first fiscal budget process as City Manager of San Antonio.

Thanks to an unusually hot summer, the City of San Antonio will have additional wiggle room in its 2020 budget to fund more and enhance existing City services, according to a memo City Manager Erik Walsh sent to City Council members on Monday. That means most – but not all – of Council’s more than $10 million budget requests will be funded next year.

Last week, Walsh was cautiously optimistic that Council would have an extra $3 million in the budget, but CPS Energy’s revenues from selling excess power to the Texas market last month soared to $10 million, giving the City a $7.8 million surplus.

“To put this exceptional $10 million in perspective, the monthly City payment derived from off-system sales in the summer months is typically $1 million to $3 million,” Walsh said. “Note that the $10 million in August payment is nearly equal to the entire annual payments of FY 2016 and FY 2017 respectively.”

But this is an unpredictable revenue source, Walsh cautioned, and there are other outside elements putting pressure on the City’s future budgets.

“Clearly this unusually high payment derived from off-system sales is atypical and must be considered a unique revenue boost to fund one-time expenditures,” he said.

That extra money will go towards funding 23 of the more than 35 general fund requests from Council members proposed this summer. Other requests were funded through the refocusing of grants, development services fee revenues, parks tree fund, and the capital budget’s emergency fund.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran’s long-awaited seed funding for a police substation in District 3 made the list; as did Councilman Roberto Treviño’s request to use emergency general fund dollars to help those facing eviction, Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan’s request to double funding for the Martin Luther King, Jr. March to $200,000, and a collaborative request to help establish a Mexican American civil rights institute.

Treviño and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) requested $250,000 from the 2020 and 2021 budgets for the educational institute focused on Mexican Americans and the history of their fight for civil rights, but Walsh recommended $150,000 each year. Roughly half of the requests are anticipated to have impacts on the following year, Walsh wrote, so the 2020 budget recommendations must take into account 2021’s budget as well.

Walsh recommended putting more than $2 million into the City’s 2021 reserves to brace for the impact of Senate Bill 2, which caps the number of increased revenue cities can collect from property taxes without asking for voter approval. The state legislation takes effect in 2021.

Treviño has lobbied for a $1.3 million increase across the district and mayor’s office, which would increase each office’s budget for its contractors by about 30 percent. Treviño and eight of his 10 colleagues expressed support of the measure during budget discussions last week.

The budget puts aside $652,713 to increasing council aide, but Walsh recommends delaying pay increases for those contract employees until a more structured plan is developed and analyzed through a Council committee process.

City Council will consider the budget amendments Wednesday afternoon when Walsh and City staff take Council’s opinions on what should and should not be funded.

“This review [of Council aide compensation] will include a market review of the pay and structure in other large cities and an analysis of the essential job junctions of the Council staff to maintain internal pay structure consistency within the entire organization,” Walsh wrote.

Therefore, Walsh’s amendment recommendation is to fund six months of Treviño’s requested funding level – starting in April assuming Council ultimately approves of the pay increase – and fully funds it in 2021.

“If the recommendations from the Governance City Council Committee result in a lesser amount than what is budgeted then the balance should be distributed equally to the City Council districts’ Neighborhood Access and Mobility Program,” Walsh wrote. That program coordinates infrastructure improvements to increase pedestrian mobility.

Walsh will present the final $2.9 billion proposed budget to City Council for approval on Thursday morning. The budget increases funding for affordable housing, domestic violence mitigation, and cost-of-living pay for most civilian employees while providing minimal property tax relief for homesteads.

It also provides $1.4 million for 2021 to match funds for the Alamo Colleges District’s Alamo Promise initiative to provide free college tuition for qualifying area high schoolers, which was recommended by Walsh and City staff

The proposed budget increases the amount of revenue it takes from San Antonio Water System to make up for yield it will not collect next year from previously required telecommunication companies fees.

Requests that did not make Walsh’s list include an additional animal-control code officer for District 3 ($109,418), funding to implement the Fredericksburg Road corridor revitalization plan ($250,000), a feasibility study for a community center in District 2, and several road improvement projects in District 10 (more than $1.3 million).

Walsh’s list also does not include funding for a future City Council policy on guns. Andrews-Sullivan and Councilman John Courage (D9) proposed a gun buyback program last month, but most Council members agreed last week that the funding and structure of the program should be worked out through a Council committee process.

“We made an earnest effort to balance budget priorities, unexpected revenues, and prudent fiscal planning to come up with the … recommendations,” Walsh wrote in conclusion.

Click here to download Walsh’s memo and list of budget recommendations.

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