The “heated and lively debate” comes to an end as the San Antonio City Council approves the new annual budget

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SAN ANTONIO — Some of the progressive members of the San Antonio City Council made gains in the annual budget approved Thursday and said — in a departure from last year’s criticism — that they were excited about the improvements and the process.

The city will also soon hire a coordinator to oversee crime prevention efforts and work in all city departments, as requested by District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, who represents the East Side and advocates crime-fighting strategies other than the police response has set in.

Residents of Seven Oaks, along with members of the Texas Organizing Project, told the city council Thursday they were grateful for the action on home inspections. Sylvia Flores has been without a working air conditioner for several months and has been dealing with leaks in her ceiling for more than three years.

“The hard work and organization of local San Antonio residents is why increased housing code enforcement is being discussed in the first place today,” Flores said. “Every single resident of our city – regardless of age, race, gender or economic status – deserves a hygienic and safe place to live.”

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City leaders may consider other measures to increase housing inspections.

The new position for coordinating crime prevention efforts stems from a policy proposal McKee-Rodriguez made in January. He originally envisioned a city council staffed with five experts who could investigate the causes of crime and suggest solutions.

This year, McKee-Rodriguez praised the new fiscal 2023 budget, which is set to take effect Oct. 1, as did fellow progressive District 5 City Councilwoman Teri Castillo. She pointed to increased infrastructure investment for the West Side she represents – Neighborhoods and support for small businesses.

Last year, newly elected councilors had little time to review the city’s budget and openly rebelled against what they called a rushed process that did not encourage change. City Manager Erik Walsh has started budget talks with City Council earlier this year.

Castillo confirmed a change.

“I feel like this is a different vibe than last year,” she said. “We are making great strides in the right direction. I could always go on.”

However, satisfaction did not extend to everyone.

District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo, who represents downtown and the nearby North Side, voted against the budget. He said no in protest at a city council majority’s decision to proceed with a rebate for CPS Energy customers, using a $50 million windfall San Antonio received from the utility he owns.

Bravo wanted the money to be used for more weathering and climate-related investments.

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District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran, who represents the South Side, also abstained in the final budget vote in protest of the rebate. She had made a request to postpone a vote on the funds.

“That should never have been budgeted,” Viagran said. “We should always have had a bigger conversation about it.”

However, Viagran said she was enthusiastic about the budget overall.

San Antonio’s fiscal 2023 budget totals $3.4 billion. This year it was $3.1 billion.

The budget includes a general fund of $1.5 billion, an 11 percent increase from this year; $1.2 billion for restricted funds such as airport operations; and a $641 million capital budget for infrastructure improvements. It also includes $156.4 million from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, a COVID-19 relief law.

The general fund pays for basic services such as fire and police services, road repairs, parks, libraries, and senior centers. It is financed from sales and property tax revenues as well as contributions from the city’s own CPS Energy.

“We’ve had some very heated and lively debates on budget items,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “But overall we’re trying to achieve a consensus document that represents our entire community. And I think we did it.”

Tax relief

The city expects to collect $53 million more in property taxes than it did this year — an increase of nearly 8 percent. Property owners have seen their appraised value skyrocket which will eventually result in a higher property tax bill.

Although the city received more money from property taxes, the city council approved some relief measures.

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A larger exemption for homesteads protects 10 percent of the appraised value of a principal residence from city taxation. It’s a jump over the city’s previous exemption, which covers a barely noticeable 0.01 percent of a property’s value, or at least $5,000 per household.

The city council also approved an increase in the city’s tax exemptions for seniors age 65 and older and people with disabilities.

The new budget also includes a cut in the city’s tax rate, a relief measure aimed at helping commercial property owners who don’t benefit from the increased homestead tax exemption.

The city tax rate is set to drop 1.67 cents — to about 33 cents per $100 of taxable value. The withdrawal also ensures San Antonio can comply with a state law that requires an election if a city’s property tax revenue increases by more than 3.5 percent in a single year.

San Antonio Police Department Resources

Whether to expand the San Antonio Police Department has become a provocative debate at City Hall.

On ExpressNews.com: “Not the only instrument:” Council progressives take action against the police budget

In the end, San Antonio’s new budget leaves the city spending less on policing and fire protection — as a percentage of its overall budget — than it has in any year for the past decade. But the police department will still end up getting more funding because the overall budget is larger.

Officials plan to add 78 officers to the police force. Fifty of the jobs are dependent on the city receiving a federal grant that would help defray costs over time.

wages of city employees

San Antonio’s new budget spends millions on higher wages for employees as the city struggles to retain workers and fill vacancies in a changing job market hit by the pandemic.

The city will increase its starting wage from $15.60 to $17.50 an hour. The pay jumps follow the city’s first study of its own pay rates since 2008. As a result, the budget includes pay increases for almost everyone.

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All civilian or non-public safety employees will receive a 5 percent pay rise. In addition, city employees will experience a “market fit” of between 2 and 7 percent. Still, 244 employees will receive more than 7 percent of the market rate because they are so far behind.

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