City’s 2017 Budget Balances Basics and Innovation

San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley gave an overview of the $2.5 billion proposed budget for the 2017 fiscal year to City Council on Thursday. Included in the hefty document are are a number of new initiatives this year, from funding the World Heritage Work Plan to implementing “Smart Cities” technology to Spanish translation services, but what remains the same, City officials said, is a strong emphasis on the “basic” infrastructure like streets, drainage, and sidewalk maintenance.

“I’m really pleased that we struck such a good balance as far as being innovative and forward thinking but still reflecting the fact that citizens want us to focus on basic services,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said after the presentation.

With a $585 million Capital Plan, $823 million Restricted Fund, and $1.14 billion General Fund, next year’s total budget is projected to be 0.2% less than fiscal year 2016. The budget would slightly increase funding for streets and infrastructure overall, allocating $64 million for streets, $15 million for sidewalks.

Click here to download the city manager’s presentation.

All this and a $850 million 2017 Municipal Bond was achieved without raising the property tax rate, as Sculley and several City Council members emphasized while giving their feedback on the proposed budget from the dais. While the proposal was well-received by the Mayor and Council members, some gave specific adjustment and priority points for City staff to look into over the next month before the final budget is presented for a vote on Sept. 15.

Image courtesy of www.sanantoniotx.opengov.com.

Image courtesy of www.sanantoniotx.opengov.com.

There will be a series of department presentations every Wednesday during B Session for Council to dive deeper into budget line items. Community feedback is also being accepted through “comment boxes” online and in-person at libraries, medical facilities, retirement homes, and other public locations. The SASpeakUp survey, used to formulate the budget alongside priorities set by Council members, can still be found here.

An online, interactive budget display tool has been developed by OpenGov for residents to further explore the budget and compare it to the last four years. Click here to find out more. A Spanish version is coming soon.

Several community open house nights to collect feedback are scheduled across the city in addition to any meetings Council members hold with community groups and organizations.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m., Budget presentation begins at 6 p.m.
Date Time Facility Name Location
August 22 5:30-7:30 p.m. Claude Black Community Center 2805 E. Commerce
August 23 5:30-7:30 p.m. Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center 8400 N.W. Military Hwy
August 25 5:30-7:30 p.m. The Tool Yard 10303 Tool Yard
August 29 5:30-7:30 p.m. Normoyle Community and Senior Center 700 Culberson Ave.
September 1 5:30-7:30 p.m. South Side Lions Community Center 3100 Hiawatha Street

“We want the public to know that each and every dollar in the budget is accounted for. So when we ask to move money into an area that means that something else has to be reduced,” Sculley said. “It is a balancing act and we take our direction from our Council that serve as our policy makers and from the community.”

‘Smart Cities’ Initiatives

Integrating technology into the daily lives of citizens will not only increase efficiency, Taylor said, but also add to their quality of life. The OpenGov site that went live with the interactive budget tool on Thursday, for instance, is the result of Smart Cities initiatives already launched.

Mayor Ivy Taylor addresses City Manager Sheryl Sculley following her budget presentation. Photo by Scott Ball.

Mayor Ivy Taylor asks City Manager Sheryl Sculley questions following the budget presentation. Photo by Scott Ball.

The proposed budget calls for $13 million to pay for advancements large and small, including construction of the Potranco Branch “Smart Cities” Library co-located with a YMCA gym, replacement of the City’s network infrastructure, and creation of online parks reservation and building permitting systems. The initiatives also include several pilot programs that would position informational kiosks across the city, install WiFi at several city parks, and try out “solar benches” that act as shade structures, phone chargers, and WiFi hot spots.

Uniformed Employees

One particularly familiar element of the budget discussions this year are the uncertain terms between the City and the police and firefighters unions. Both contracts have been expired for two years. The long-fought collective bargaining agreement with the police union will be up for approval on Thursday, Sept. 1 amid concerns about its lack of disciplinary reform from at least one Council member and Black Lives Matter activists. The fire union has yet to come to the table for negotiations.

Mike Lowe and his daughter Naomi, 9, walk under scaffolding along Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

Black Lives Matter activist Mike Lowe and his daughter Naomi, 9, walk under scaffolding along Houston Street. Lowe has organized several protests against the police union contract. Photo by Scott Ball.

Over the five-year contract, police officers will receive 17% in wage increases and the City will avoid a total of $87.5 million in health care costs, according to the City’s actuarial calculations. One of the two optional health insurance coverage plans calls for dependents to pay a premium. Police officers will continue to have premium-free coverage under both options. The total cost increase over the next five years of the contract will only be $5.5 million, Sculley said.

“(We’re) going about their health care decision making in a different way. We’ve increased deductibles and out of pocket expenses; we’re asking the (uniformed employees) to stay in-network,” she said. “Their health care coverage is really the same, going forward, it’s just that we’re asking them participate in the cost.”

After three years, the proposed contract is expected to push public safety spending beyond 66% of the General Fund, an outcome City officials were determined to avoid. The fiscal year 2017 budget keeps public safety at 65.9% – assuming the police contract is approved and assuming the fire union accepts a similar agreement. While the Fire Department will receive funding for badly-needed facility upgrades and other equipment in its $308 million budget, the department’s need for another 12-member EMT unit will likely go unmet as the fire union’s contract is expired, operating under an evergreen clause of the contract that keeps most of its terms in place until a new contract is reached.

The San Antonio Police Department will add 32 more police officers, 25 of which are funded by a federal grant for community policing, and seven will be assigned to areas the City plans on annexing off of Highway 281. Equipment, facilities, and body camera implementation, two positions for gang violence intervention program, and a host of other expenses add up to the Police Department’s nearly $428 million budget.

The proposed budget also includes, for the first time, a cash incentive program for uniformed officers to move to San Antonio: $7,500 if they move into the City limits and $15,000 if they move within 36 square miles of the urban core. About 47% of police officers and 43% of firefighters live in San Antonio.

“We are preempted from requiring them to live in the city by state law,” Sculley said during an interview earlier this week. The advantage to having uniformed officers live in the city they serve is that “they know it better, they have a relationship with the community, and it’s one of the strong recommendations in the 21st century policing report that was published last year from the White House.”

Civilian Employee Wages and Perks

City Council seems divided on the idea of raising the minimum wage for civilian City employees from the current $13 to $15, which several community organizations including COPS/Metro Alliance have been lobbying for.

Councilman Ray Lopez (D6) and others asked Sculley to explore different options that would increase the hourly wage to $14 next year, setting the City on a “path to $15″ by 2018 to “strengthen the family unit.”

A City worker takes a photo of the rally calling for a $15 minimum wage for City employees in front of City Hall on July 31, 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

A City worker takes a photo of the rally calling for a $15 minimum wage for City employees in front of City Hall on July 31, 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

Entry-level position employees can already work their way up to $15 through the employee 10-step raise program, Sculley said, and the existing proposal puts an emphasis on workforce training and advancement opportunities for trade employees with tuition reimbursements.

“We are prepared to show you the financial impact (of raising the minimum wage) – and there is one,” she said, explaining that the impact is far-reaching when you consider compression. Raising the minimum would mean some supervisors would be getting paid close to or the same as subordinates, so the City would have to increase the wages of supervisors.

“I’m open to discussion and conversation on that (increase), however … I think it’s more important for us to be focused on opportunities for those employees to develop skills that allow them to compete for jobs that ultimately pay more,” Taylor said.

Sculley also recommended increasing paid leave by six weeks for mothers and fathers of newborns. If combined with the Short Term Disability leave that covers about 6-8 weeks, these policies would allow for a total of up to 14 weeks off. Employees would also receive 24 hours of paid “family and education” leave so parents can take their kids to doctor appointments, go to parent teacher conferences, or attend registration for their own educational advancement.

“Another attempt to be a family-friendly organization and ensure that our families – our employees – are able to take care of their families in the best way possible,” she said.

Domestic Violence Programs Funding Here to Stay

After a budget priority discussion in June, several members of Council were concerned to see that funding may be shifted away from some so-called “delegate” or social service agencies that provide care and prevention services for domestic abuse and other children and family services. Money has instead been taken from workforce development programs to maintain the same level of funding for said domestic violence agencies.

(Read More: Council Sets Budget Priorities: More Cops, More Sidewalks, and Revisit Social Services)

Managing World Heritage and Planning for Tricentennial

New this year is funding for implementation of the recently developed World Heritage Work Plan to the tune of $500,000. The World Heritage Office will also gain a staffer and a $250,000 Incentive Fund will be established for local business development. As part of the Capital Budget, $2.8 million will address streets and sidewalks in the emerging Mission District.

Since receiving a World Heritage designation last year, the area surrounding the Spanish-colonial Missions of San Antonio has seen accelerated private and public investment. The work plan was developed to help manage the growth that some fear will encroach on existing residents, businesses, and culture.

Terry A. Ybanez (second from right) stands with friends and neighbors during a recent show of protest to development near San Antonio's Spanish colonial Missions. Image couretsy of Ybanez.

Terry A. Ybanez (second from right) stands with friends and neighbors during a recent show of protest to development near San Antonio’s Spanish colonial Missions. Image couretsy of Ybanez.

Increased Incentives for Infill Development and Support Affordable Housing Efforts

The City Manager recommended adding $500,000 to Inner City Redevelopment Infill Policy‘s fee waiver program for residential and commercial projects in targeted areas, bringing the total to $2.5 million. A $250,000 contribution to the operating costs of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, which will staff a local office in San Antonio and work to bring affordable housing options to the city.

“They do an outstanding job developing affordable housing in communities and bringing private equity to the table to be able to construct more housing for the community” especially in the inner city, Taylor said.

The San Antonio Area Foundation worked to bring LISC to San Antonio. According to its website, “LISC has invested $12.9 billion to build or rehab 298,300 affordable homes and apartments and develop 49 million sq. ft. of retail, community, and educational space.”

Growth in construction and real estate means Development Services will need more staff to process permits and conduct inspections. Sculley recommended adding 18 positions to that department which will be funded through new and increased development fees.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that paid time leave for new parents would be six months. It would be six weeks.

Top image: City Manager Sheryl Sculley gives a presentation on the 2017 City budget. Photo by Scott Ball.

Related Stories:

City to Consider Improving Spanish Translation Services

Local Control, Economic Competitiveness Priorities for City in Next Legislative Session

Council Reviews ‘Rough Draft’ Priorities for $850 Million Bond

Housing Commission Moves Forward with Housing Bond Recommendations

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Iris Dimmick is managing editor of The Rivard Report. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com

By OpenGov
Published: August 18, 2016
Source: City’s 2017 Budget Balances Basics and Innovation